Saturday, February 15, 2014

Becoming Naomi Leon

Author:  Pam Munoz Ryan
Published:  2004
"One of [grandma's] favorite sayings was that the good and the bad of any situation were sometimes the same."  That was how she felt when Naomi and Owen's mother returned after seven years.  Skyla, mom, had dropped Owen and Naomi off seven years ago and had not written, called, or visited.  Owen was one year old and Naomi was four years old at the time.  The first few years of their lives had been traumatic and led each child to carry emotional scars.  Owen had troubles that required surgeries and constant visits to the children's hospital to help straighten out his head that was always turned sideways on his shoulder.  These were just physical problems and didn't seem to bother him.  Owen, however, always wore tape on his shirt.  The tape seemed to help hold him together.  The more he struggled with something, the more tape he needed.  Naomi on the other hand, refused to talk until she was six years old.  She still did not talk much and when she did, it was a whisper.  She did not match her name, Leon, or lion.

The children do not know much about their own history and Grams doesn't like to "dig up old bones," so she doesn't tell them much until Skyla returns and then wants to take Naomi away with her.  Naomi and Owen were born to Skyla, originally from Oklahoma, and Santiago, a sweet and handsome man, from Oaxaca in Mexico.  Owen looks like his mother with fair skin, blond hair, and brown eyes, but Naomi looks like her father.  Naomi has dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair.  The story takes us from the trailer park where Naomi is living with Owen and Gram to Mexico where Naomi learns more about her Mexican history and finds her father.  They are searching for Santiago so he will help convince a judge that the children are better off together and with Gram.  They do not want to be split up and have Naomi go with Skylar to Vegas with her new boyfriend.  Naomi realizes that her mother does not love her, she is only wanted to help collect money from the government because they are poor.  

Naomi meets her father in Mexico and he reminds her that she is Naomi Leon, Naomi Lion.  Does she find her roar and stand up to her mother?  Can she convince the judge that her family is with her brother and her Gram?  Read the book to learn how Naomi becomes Naomi Leon!

Beoming Naomi Leon is a Pura Belpre Award Honor Book from 2006.  The Belpre " is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  This book also was awarded the ALA's Schnieder Family Book Award.

I don't think that most 3rd graders would read this book on their own and enjoy it.  I would definitely read this book to my third graders, though. They would enjoy the triumph of the children.  This is the type of book I would have enjoyed reading when I was in fifth grade.  I would have related to the main character and would have been anxious for Naomi to be successful.  Reading it now, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough - I was so worried about Naomi and Owen.  I wanted Naomi to find her father, I wanted Naomi to stay with Grams and Owen, I wanted Owen to feel loved by his family.  The book is positive and the qualities of the children that makes them different from the children around them, makes the reader love them.  It's difficult to understand how the mother, Skyla, is the way she is to them.  

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