Saturday, April 26, 2008

Becoming You

Becoming Naomi Leon
Written by Pam Munoz Ryan
Scholastic, Inc. 2004
Multicultural Literature, 3-5

Summary: Namoi Soledad Leon Outlaw lives with her great-grandmother and younger brother in their tralier "Baby Beluga" at the Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho. Naomi shares all her struggles, fears, feelings, and doubts as she faces the suprises and the worries of each day. She stuggles with feeling accepted at school, for she is teased at school by boys who make fun of her last name, and she does not feel accepted by the girls, because Naomi feels that she is too different from them to be accepted. She has "a mop of unruly brown hair, brown eyes, and milky brown skin." Her father is from Mexico and her mother is from America. Naomi's life changes drastically when her mother suddenly appears in her life. She has never met her mother, who has changed her name and has been in and out of rehab centers and "halfway houses" due to drinking. Her mother wants Naomi to move to California with her and her boyfriend, Clive, but Naomi takes a stand againist her, telling her no. Her mother, Skyla, then slaps her sharply across the face. To get away from Skyla and Clive, Gram, Naomi, Owen, Fabiola, and Bernardo (their friends and neighbors) traveled to Oaxoca, Mexico to stay with Fabiola's sister, husband, daughter, and her son. Naomi enjoys her life here very much and has her heart set on finding her father, who she desperatly wants to meet, for he can help Gram as she seeks legal custody of Naomi and Owen. Naomi finally gets to meet him at the Festival of the Radishes (La Noche de los Rabanos). He holds her and Owen, crying over the time lost. He spends much time with them over the next few days before they must return to California for the court day. On this day, Naomi remembers to be brave like her Father told her, and she tells the judge why she does not want to live with her mother; why she belongs with Gram and Owen. The judge grants Gram custody of the children. Naomi's life will never be the same, and she has overcome her doubts, fears, and worries. Through these trials of her life, she has become Naomi the Lion, a girl strong enough to become who she is meant to be.

Response: When I first began reading this book, I was not sure what the plot or the theme of the story was or what this book would be teaching students. As the story progressed, I fell in love with the characters Naomi and Owen. I respected Gram and her faithfulness and love that she has for her great-grandchildren as if they are her own.

Naomi faces situations in school that all girls her age encounter: teasing, acceptance by other girls, and finding who she is. However, Naomi faces other issues that will give students different perspectives. Such as what it is like to look different and not feel accepted by others at school. Students should come to the realization that even though we may look different, all have a desire to be accepted and loved. Everyone is special and unique! Naomi living with her grandmother will also open a door for students to see a new perspective and to connect with Naomi. The desires and dreams that Naomi has for meeting her parents are experienced by children who may live with a grandparent and have probably never even been thought about by children who live with their parents.

The character of Owen can teach students so much! Even though Owen is different and teased at school, he always looks on the bright side! He is always positive! For example, when Owen is teased at school, people calling him retard and pulling the tape off of Owen's chest, he falls down to the ground. When he gets back up, he smiles and says to Naomi, "I fell down on purpose. They didn't mean it, they were just teasing." Owen is very, very smart, but he was born with a few birth defects. One leg is shorter than the other, making him walk with a bit of a hobble. Owen does not let this stop him from making the best of life. Owen is also not afraid to be himself. He always wears tape across his chest, for he greatly likes tape. It does not matter who makes fun of him or who tells him to stop wearing tape, he continues to wear his tape. Even when Owen goes to the doctor because of his impairments, he is happy because he gets to see the doctors who have become his friends. Owen also greatly cares for his older sister, Naomi. When he is sad, he does all that he can to cheer her up and reassure her. In Mexico, he and Ruben do their best to help her find their father by working as a team, calling all the Santigo's in the phonebook. When they thought that they could not find him, Owen said, "It's oaky, Naomi. It's oaky." Owen is always himself, caring for others, looking on the positive side, and He does not care what others think or say about him!

This book qualifies as a great multicultural book, because it introduces students to new perspectives and allows students to understand and empathize with people who are different from themselves. The universality of Naomi's experiences allows students to find connections across cultures. Naomi demonstrates many differences in that she is a minority student in her school, lives with her grandmother, and has a younger brother who needs special medical attention. Many differnt views of the Mexican culture and ways of life are introduced, for when Naomi goes to Mexico, the book focuses on the Mexican culture.

Pam Munoz Ryan presents cultural details authentically and multidimensionally. This means that specific details have been illuminated and reflected upon. Some of these specific cultural markers include the description of the layout and houses in Mexico. I was suprised when Naomi said, "the size and conditon of some of the houses made Baby Beluga look like a mansion." (page 171). Naomi also describes the city as being on a mesa, or a tabletop. Many spanish words and concepts are introduced through the book, and they are all integrated naturally! For example, Spanish words and meanings are included whenever possible! When they first arrive, Bernardo tells them that "barrio" means neighborhood. The details of the city also help to create a sense of the culture. The streets in town are narrow and bumpy because the ground is set with stones in cement. The many walls that divide each house creates a vivid picture of the town. The houses are small, maybe just a little bigger than Baby Beluga. Houses contain gardens, clothlines for drying laundry, and small trees growing out of brownish grass. Important cultural holidays and celebrations are also integrated very well into the book. Celebrations such as Las Pasados and La Noche de los Rabones are explained in great detail. The emotions and wonder that Naomi feels are also expressed. During the celebration of Las Pasados, Naomi begins crying for the sorrow and joy that the celebrations leads her to feel.

Ryan also includes an insider perspective (writes as a member of the culture) for the culture is explained to Naomi through Fabiola, Bernardo, Graciela, and Ruben. They explain the importance of Las Pasados and La Noche de los Rabones. The family also explains small details fo the culture such as how to shop in the market, or el mercado, and the concept that men do make the wood carvings and the women paint them. Naomi remembers the mobile that hung over her head when she was a baby that her Father made for her. At her great-aunt's Tereasa's house, Naomi gets to see the many animals and wood creations that her father has made. She believes that she is a carver, just like her father, for she is constantly carving soap.

Teaching Ideas: Naomi greatly enjoys to carve soap. She is proud of what she creates! Teachers can use this as a way to encourage students to seek out actvities that they enjoy. Students can also be encouraged to try new activties such as sewing, cross-stitching, art, sports, learning a musical instrument, dance, and so many others! Teacher can even help students as they try to soap carve as a class.

Students will enjoy looking at slides and pictures of the celebration of Noche do Rabones (Night of the Radishes). This will better help them become more knowledable about the celebration how so many creations and figures can be made from radishes!

Students can also look at pictures of Oaxaca, Mexico in order to better understand what the city would look like. They could then compare the images that they found the descriptions in the book.

Naomi makes lists on just about everything and anything! Students may enjoy also doing this. They can be given about 2 days to create at least three lists on anything that they would like! Their lists could be about anything from "The funny things my dog does" to "The funny things my little sister says." Naomi does make a list of "Things I Am Good At." This should be done by each student, for this will encourage them and give them a chance to share about themselves with their classmates.

Becoming Naomi Leoni is a book to use to introduce students to the Mexican culture as well as allow them to see different perspectives through Naomi!


Britney Smith said...

I completely agreed with so much of what you said! Owen and Naomi were great characters werent they! Owen is such a positive child, we should all strive to be like him!

-Jeana Sigmon- said...

I loved how you focused on Owen. Isn't he precious. I fell in love with Owen. He is such a dynamic character.