Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes--StudyStack

Bibliography: Montes, M. (2006). Los gatos black on Halloween. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Summary: Under October’s luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all? Wait until you see them (Henry Holt and Company)!

Tool: StudyStack

StudyStack is an easy-to-use, green alternative to the labor-intensive buying of hundreds of index cards and handwriting each question and answer over and over and over. This online flashcard site has thousands of free user-created sets ranging from AP Human Geography to Welsh language to Midwifery to the LSAT. When you click on your desired subject, flashcards will appear automatically, but StudyStack also converts all sets to crossword puzzles, hangman, matching activities, target activities (see example below), wordsearches, and a bug munch game similar to an educational Pac-Man.

If you are unable to find specific information, you can easily create your own flashcard sets, just as I did for Los Gatos Black on Halloween, which is listed on StudyStack under "Spanish Halloween Terms." All you do is type your "questions" and "answers" into the designated boxes, and StudyStack automatically formats them into flashcards and the additional games. Unfortunately, StudyStack does not allow for image uploads on the flashcard function, so for students who learn more visually, I recommend creating a target activity like the one below.

All activities can be embedded in teacher websites. I have included the targets activity to show how StudyStack can be used visually. I also understand that, being a children's book, Los Gatos Black on Halloween is a departure from the YA books I usually feature, but due to its bilingual nature, I felt it was appropriate to include this book as the example of the StudyStack tool.

Flashcards and educational games by StudyStack

Review: Marisa Montes’s poem, Los Gatos Black on Halloween, is both entertaining and instructive, incorporating Spanish terms for typical Halloween fare—las calabazas for “pumpkins” and los monstruos for “monsters,” for example—so that children will be able to grasp their meanings using context clues. She writes, “The corpses with their cold, dead eyes, / Los muertos from their coffins rise.” Coupled with Yuyi Morales’s illustrations, an elementary student could easily determine that los muertos translates to “the dead.” By teaching children “cool” Spanish words that they might not learn otherwise (“dead,” “witch,” “vampire”), Los Gatos Black on Halloween is an excellent tool to foster excitement about bilingual education and learning about other cultures.

Morales’s pictures, however, are why this book ultimately succeeds and also why it won the Pura Belpré Award (Montes’s narrative garnered it a Pura Belpré Honor). Her rich paintings are deliciously dark (and perhaps a bit too scary for primary students), evoking a chilling Halloween atmosphere, but they also celebrate Latino/a culture. Every bruja (“witch”), esqueleto (“skeleton”), and fantasma (“phantom”) is dressed in traditional Mexican garb (Morales herself is from Mexico), and nearly all of the architecture, with the exception of the Haunted Hall, mimics the pueblos of the Southwest.

My one complaint about Los Gatos Black on Halloween is certainly nitpicky, but in the line “On harpsicords once tucked away,” the word “harpsichord” is spelled incorrectly. Perhaps this is simply an editor’s error, but in a poem with only about 30 lines, it does detract, however minimally, from the book’s authority as a resource. The audience for whom it was intended, however, will be much too distracted by the fun of Morales’s illustrations and decoding Montes’s Spanish words to care about a misspelled English one. The meaning is still clear. As Morales has said in an interview, in children’s books, “communication [is] universal” (http://biography.jrank.org/pages/950/Morales-Yuyi.html). Grades 1-4.

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