According to the inside of the jacket of this book “Inspired by his youth in California’s Central Valley, Gary Soto’s poems are direct, vivid, and brimming with the emotions that make growing up so wondrous.”
Before you get to the poems, you are greeted with Gary Soto’s introduction explaining how he wanted to stay true to those things of his childhood – “I wanted to give these things life and to write so well that my poems would express their simple beauty.”
The cover is a pair of hands grasping an orange – a significant fruit grown in the area he grew up in (California’s Central Valley) but also for most of the state of California. The poems are not complicated, they are real – they can be funny to melancholy. There are even a few poems dedicated to the subject of having crushes on girls. Each poem has a small blurb explaining Soto’s poetic intentions and to give background information.
You can read some if not all the book on Google Books and explore this poetry too. It will resonate perfectly with many Mexican-Americans, but also provide poetic insight for those that may not be able to relate. My favorite poem is on page 22 of the book called Eating Mexican Food, which gives “rules” about eating these unique foods. For example
Marching on your tongue
It’s okay to scream into your napkin.
Note that this is not a picture book, but more suited for students in junior high and even high school. Poetry is for everyone.
"The skin I’m in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story."
I have not had a quote impact me like the one above, in quite some time. It has left me pondering about all sorts of things. Like a punch in the stomach. Then I wonder what it feels like for a child to read it.
Skin Again by bell hooks is a really special book. It reads very simply, it isn’t very long, like a piece of prose. The words/phrases are completed as you turn the pages (think Eric Carle style). The message is simple. It is just skin, it is not me, not the person I am on the inside.
The illustrations are simple, like dabs and strokes of paint to show many different children.
The main points it makes is like when the book says
If you want to know who I am
you have got to come inside
and open your heart way wide.
This is not the first book I have encountered by bell hooks, I’ve read Be Boy Buzz (a poem about all things boy) and then there is the more well known Happy to be Nappy. Bell hooks is actually just a pen name for the author. She is an amazing educator on feminism, race, gender, and a social activist.
If you would like to know more about bell, go ahead and go on Youtube and punch in her name. You will see all kinds of videos on the subjects she focuses on. This particular one on Cultural Criticism and Transformation really moved me. It is part of a series (beware that there are some clips in this video that might make it NSFW). This video and the accompanying ones speak more to adults and university students than to children, but I think it is still relevant since I believe that what we see are the results of discrepancies in childhood.
It makes me wonder who is this book written for? Is it a black book? A white book? Does it even matter? I think it is for everyone.