Category Archives: Featured Posts

ALOUD with Urrealism

Yesterday it was my privilege to head over to the Los Angeles Central Public Library to listen to Luis Urrea speak about his new novel, Queen of America. I first met Luis several years ago when I went to interview him at a signing at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. The signing went long; I never got my interview, but we had a wonderful chat and have remained steadfast acquaintances on Twitter. I’ve since tried to fit my schedule to one of his Los Angeles appearances, but it seemed we were always missing each other so I was thrilled to be able to attend the event last night.

I found out about the event via Luis on his Twitter account @Urrealism and hurriedly registered for the event. It was the first I’d heard about the programs and events put on by ALOUD-LA at the Central Library. I wish I had known about it sooner, but I’ll be at future events.

The event was great. First of all, the Los Angeles Central Library is absolutely gorgeous. I love the building and we’re old friends. I think I’ve walked those stacks thousands of times. I’ve read by the fountains, the roses, used the computer room, wandered up and down escalators more times than I can count. The architecture is just fabulous. One of these days I need to spend the day there just photographing all the different elements.

Flower Street Entrance into the Library

Luis Urrea was standing at the podium when I walked in a few minutes late. I grabbed a seat just in time to see him go from a seemingly unassuming, quiet author to the King of the Rancho. His reading from memory of Don Tomas Urrea was amazing. I could see the dancing horse, the lasso, and the party where Tomas rode into in his kingly style. What a performance!

Later, he sat in conversation with Carolyn Kellogg of the L.A. Times to discuss the book, his writing process and more. It was quite the entertaining hour and reminded me of just why I like this author so much. He’s not only a brilliant writer, he’s just a hell of a nice and very real guy. Approachable. Familiar. Most of all, fun. He’s damned entertaining and I can’t wait to dig into Queen of America.

Afterwards, I waited for a line of people to get their books signed and spent a little time chatting to Luis and his lovely wife Cindy. Beautiful venue, great reading, lovely people. All in all, a wonderful night in literary Los Angeles.

Social Good & Your Phone (Sponsored post)

The economy is horrid, jobs few and far between, and yet every day I see that people just aren’t out for themselves, they are doing social good in some way.  Whether it be a greener planet, helping someone out with a resume or lead, or Tweeting for donations to a cause, people care and are working hard for good causes.

Our phones are helping. Mobile has become an increasingly strong way to solve the world’s problems.  According to CITA, as of June 2011, there were 327.6 million mobile subscriptions in the United States alone.  That’s a lot of phones! I’m not sure how many are smart phones, but I’d say an awful lot.

Everywhere I go, I see people on their smartphones.  Buses, trains, in the park and at the grocery store mobile apps are in play.  For social good, there are a ton of apps.  There are even books about doing social good via your mobile phone.  In fact, an upcoming book tour hopes to raise $30,000 for non-profits.

Want to do a little good in the world?  Check your app store.  There are more and more apps each day for doing socially responsible and good things.  Here’s a quick list of ten handy social good apps.

Social influencers should absolutely being doing good.  For one thing, people are watching, listening on Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs and around the web.  By influencers doing good, others follow.  Nothing like paying it forward…

For me here at AmoXcalli, my passion is books, literacy, and libraries.  Currently, RIF (Reading is Fundamental) is one of my favorite charities.  As far as I know, they don’t have a mobile app yet for donations that I know of, but I hope they get one soon.

*This is a LATISM sponsored campaign.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

Shelter Puppies

Shelter Puppies

US $19.95, CAN $21.95, UK £12.95
Hardback, 96 pages
80 illustrations / 65 in color
24 x 21.5 cm (9.5 x 8.5 in)
ISBN: 978-1-8589-4560-6
Merrell Publishers


I have to say that this is one of the cutest books I’ve run into in a long, long time.  Each page is graced with the most adorable little puppy faces and you can’t help but fall in love (unless you hate puppies).  The photography is beautiful, well lit and I’m still wondering how the photographer got those puppies to stand for the photos.  The expressions on some of the faces just make you want to run to your nearest shelter and scoop them up.

My six-year old grandson Aiden refuses to let the book go.  He sleeps with it each night and every chance he gets, he runs to me to show me another adorable puppy in it.  “Grammy,” he says.  “Isn’t this one just so adorable?  I want this one, no that one.”  Every time I see him, he has a new favorite.  Even though the book is geared for adults to draw interest to local shelters, it works well as a picture book and any child will fall in love with it.

Proceeds from every copy sold in the US will benefit the American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Shelter Puppies would make an excellent Christmas gift for any animal or dog lover in your life and with a portion of the proceeds of sales going to the ASPCA, you can give a little goodwill with your purchase.  Seriously, how can you deny these little guys?

As cute as these puppies are though, the book is a sobering reminder of just how many puppies are left and abandoned in shelters each year.  Most local shelters are overloaded, overcrowded and underfunded.  Living here in Los Angeles, I often see strays roaming and if we didn’t have so many rescue angels out there, it would be much worse.  My dog Ozzy was a rescue from a teenager who was trying to get rid of a full litter outside of a Target store.  The first thing we did after getting him, was take him to the vet, where we found he was under-nourished, taken away from his mother too soon and he wasn’t expected to survive.  Bottle feeding and extreme babying got him through and he lived for a few years, but always had health problems.

Please remember to spay or neuter your pets, and if you’re shopping for a dog, do try to support your local shelters.


About the Author

Michael Kloth is a fine-art photographer specializing in portraiture and animal photography. Based in Richland, Washington, he is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts at Washington State University. He regularly photographs adoptable animals at local shelters.
All images courtesy of Merrell Publishers of London and New York

Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher and it was promptly scooped up by my grandson.

Cybils: Year Six

Now We Are Six.

I’ve been with the Cybils since the beginning when I timidly raised my hand as a volunteer panelist.  Since then, the Cybils have grown with all the force of a young child, springing all too rapidly into young adulthood.  We’re still relatively young.  Six years old isn’t so very big, but grown up enough to see the world outside in new and adventurous ways.

I’m taking a huge step this year becoming, not a panelist but an organizer (hushed tones) in the Non-fiction Middle Grade and YA category.  That’ll teach me not to open my big mouth in front of Anne Levy, who like my sixth grade math teacher, called me up to the front of the class when I half-heartedly volunteered.  We call it Defense of the Dark Arts category, because no one organizer has ever been back for a second year.  It may even be the death of me…

So far though, I am loving it. Non-fiction is a love of mine, but children’s non-fiction is a mystery to me.  I’m learning a lot.   Just picking out my panel was a learning experience and thank the book Gods (and help from Fiona), I’ve managed to assemble a rock star group of panelists and judges who know far more than me.  That’s good. One of my old business mentors at Disney always told me, “Gina, I always hire people smarter than myself so that I can learn from them.”  She had it right.  I’m learning from a panel far smarter than myself.

The panelists are burrowed in for the Fall, deep into books (76 in total at close of nominations); the organizers are discussing things learned this round of nominations, our panels, books that may or may not be moved from one category to another and working with our panelists to keep their spirits up, make sure they are finding the books they need and once in a while, we pop up for air.  We all work double or triple duty.  We’re organizers, we’re publisher liasions, we’re social media community management, we’re email readers, we’re morale lifters, etc.  This is a LOT of work but so fun and so worth it.

I think I may defy the Non-Fiction curse and stay another year if they’ll have me.


Education Week & Books (Sponsored Post)

AmoXcalli is about books and reading.  Looking at it, you’ll think “oh another book blog” and you’ll be right.  Look deeper.  It’s much more than that.  Books are the keys to education.  If a child loves books, that child will grow up to have a thirst and hunger for knowledge and education.  I’m living proof of that.

I learned of the world outside of my little block from books.  I traveled to Oz, Narnia, the Mushroom Planet, Arabia.  I spent time on magic carpets and walked the moors of Wales.  I felt Oliver Twist’s hunger and I waited for a secret garden to come to life.  Those books of my youth led me to rely on books for knowledge.  Though I didn’t finish high school, I got along just fine because of what I learned in books.  I could carry an intelligent conversation, sail through a job interview, learn how to be computer literate.

Books are more than just stories.  They are tools of learning.  Even the most simple story, teaches us something and expands our world or transforms it into something different.  As a Latina woman, I’ve been lucky to be able to read in both languages and try to read as much as I can in Spanish.  I am now avidly reading Univision’s Educate site for the great articles on education.  The website is in Spanish (though you can use Google Translate) and is a wealth of information on how to prepare for college, cost calculators, encouraging videos on education, inspirational stories, etc.  It is a great way to read up on education for the Latino community and they even provide scholarships for Latino students.

I’m hoping soon there will be a book section and am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of Spanish by utilizing the site.

*This is a LATISM sponsored post. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

Univision’s Es El Momento Program for Education

When I was growing up in a poor Latino neighborhood, books were considered luxos (luxuries).  While education was important and we were encouraged to go to school and study hard, for some reason there was a great disconnect between the school and home.  Books, unless they were the bible or school books seemed a waste of time.

For me, the girl with her nose always buried in a book – I got the reputation for being “la floja” (the lazy one).  Reading for pleasure seemed to my mother to be the height of laziness and had something whatsoever to do with education.  I’d be better off learning how to clean the stove better or learn sewing from my Auntie Jessie.  I learned to hide my books and take stolen moments to read and educate myself about everything from language to science to hyperbolic geometry while washing the dishes or cooking.  My book of the moment was conveniently tucked away in the spoon drawer or carefully covered with a school book cover so my mother wouldn’t find out I was reading what she deemed as a waste of time.

My grandparents on the other hand, and my Aunt Lupita encouraged my reading and were heavily focused on education.  At the abuelitos house, books and reading time were encouraged.  My grandmother loved it when I read her her books on the lives of Catholic Saints and my grandfather who learned to read and write AFTER his marriage to my grandmother would always pat my head and encourage me to read more, saying that education was gold and that I must go to college.

I don’t think anyone on our block knew how to fill out a college application, understood SAT’s or had a solid saving’s plan for their children’s college future.  Kids I grew up with either went straight from high school to a factory job or stumbled their way through till they eventually found their way to community college and eventually a Bachelor’s degree.  Some found their way to college through the military.

My oldest son, Albert (in Rome) who joined the military to get to college

While education for their children is a huge priority for Latino’s, unless they are educated about the process it can be overwhelming, especially for first generation immigrants that are monolingual Spanish speakers.  They work hard and save money but don’t always have a clear picture of just how much is needed, what scholarships are available, what their role is in encouraging reading for pleasure and not just making it all about work.  We are a very industrious people and too often it is all about work, work, work which at times can turn our kids off on the idea of education.  We need to learn how to make learning and studying fun.  Programs like Es El Momento and organizations like LATISM not only educate, mentor and set examples that give our youth hope but also provide accessibility to programs and grants that will facilitate the higher education process.

I still have my nose in a book or two, but I don't hide them anymore

My grandchildren Jasmine and Aiden are now seven and five years old and we are thinking about college for them.  Jasmine is the artist and Aiden is the deep thinker.  They both are huge readers and love school and we hope to keep that fire burning.  They don’t need to hide their books in a drawer ?, and the focus for both of them is education, education, education.  I plan on educating myself and their mother on all the college prep processes and we’re thrilled to have these programs in place so that we can be ready when the time comes.  Time flies!  I highly encourage parents and grandparents to check out the Univision Es El Momento initiative and use this incredible resource.

She's going to college!

About Es El Momento

In February 2010, Univision Communications Inc. launched a comprehensive, multi?year national education initiative called Es El Momento (The Moment is Now) in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, educators and civic and community leaders from around the country. The Es El Momento initiative is aimed at improving academic achievement among K12 Hispanic students with a specific focus on high school graduation and college readiness.

Note: This is a sponsored post: my thoughts, opinions and memories are my own.

Why Ti­a Lola and I Love Sayings: A Guest Post by Author Julia Alvarez

Today AmoXcalli is graced and honored with a beautiful guest post but one of my favorite authors, Julia Alvarez.   Follow her along on the blog tour at the following blogs:






Why Ti­a Lola and I Love Sayings

I know that How Ti­a Lola Learned to Teach is filled with Ti­a Lola’s favorite sayings.  You guessed right if you think that as the author of the book, I, too, love sayings.

I grew up in the Dominican Republic, a poor country, during a long, brutal dictatorship.  People were too poor to afford books, but they were also afraid to be known as bookish.  You see, the dictator was very suspicious of readers.  He knew that when you read a book, your imagination is free to roam, become other people, and experience different cultures and times.  When you come back from reading a book, you’ve had a taste of an incredible new freedom.  You might be less likely buckle down under an oppressive ruler.

But even if the culture did not encourage readers, the Dominican people were irrepressible storytellers.  And since they couldn’t consult books for wise bits of knowledge, they condensed their experience and wisdom into short memorable sayings.  So, when Ti­a Lola, who never went past fourth grade, is asked to teach, her “textbooks” are her sayings.  That’s why every chapter in How Ti­a Lola Learned to Teach has as its title a favorite saying of Ti­a Lola.

Oral cultures are often rural cultures, that’s why many sayings involve observations from the natural world: No hay rosa sin espinas: “Every rose has thorns”; or, el ojo del amo engorda el caballo: “The eye of the owner fattens the horse”; or, cada obeja con su pareja: a sheep version of “Birds of a feather flock together.”

That’s another interesting thing about sayings: how often there are similar ones in different languages and cultures.  Here’s one Ti­a Lola uses in How Ti­a Lola Learned to Teach that exists both in English and in Spanish:

Amigo en la adversidad

es amigo de verdad

A friend in need

is a friend indeed.

There’s a saying that applies to this: nothing new under the sun! Or even: great minds think alike!

Whenever I travel, I love learning the sayings of other cultures and countries.  I recently visited Haiti, and one of the things I learned is that poor as this nation is, it is rich in sayings.  Here are a few I learned:

Krayon Bon Dia Pa Gin Gonm: “God’s pencil has no eraser.”

Yo pa ka achté moso manman nan maché: “You can’t buy a piece of mother in the market.”

Mizé fè bourik kouri pasé choual: “Misfortune makes a donkey run faster than a horse.”

Moun ki pa manjé pou kò-l pa janm grangou: “People who don’t eat alone are never hungry.”

One of the exercises I give my writing students is to ask them to either make up a saying or pick a favorite one, and then write a story that embodies the truth of that saying.  Aesop is a great model.  He was a slave, who lived about six hundred years before the Christian Era.  He wrote a whole book of fables, stories where the characters are animals who get into all kinds of scrapes that teach them, and us, wise lessons.  Aesop’s fables often end with a little lesson in the form of a saying.  You might have heard the one that says, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  It comes from Aesop’s story about the tortoise and the hare.  Another popular saying is, “One man’s meat is another one’s poison,” which comes from Aesop’s fable of the ass and the grasshopper.  Legend has it that Aesop’s fables were so popular, they won him his freedom.  Of course, there is a saying that applies to Aesop’s own life story: “The pen is mightier than the sword,” or, since sayings can be amended to fit new situations, “The pen is mightier than a ball and chain,” and a lot lighter, too.

© 2010 by Julia Alvarez


The Cybils – Year 5












And then we grew up.

Five years ago, I learned about the Cybils – The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. It was their first year. They were brave, intrepid adventurers and as they shyly, in a very bookish manner called out for potential judges and panelists, I raised my hand. I’ve never once regretted that faint hand waving from the back of the room.

In my first year with them, I was put in the graphic novels category as a first run panelist. What a ride that was! I got to know fellow panelists, an amazing group of people and was deep in my milieux of graphic novels. I’m an old comic book geek girl from way back. Beyond that, I grew up with the fantastic art in children’s literature like Wind in the Willows, The Andrew Lang Color Fairy Books, Little Women, Little House books and the Mushroom Planet books. Illustration and art tug at my heart strings and I never could see why even grown up novels couldn’t have an illustration or two. So graphic novels and the explosion of that genre spoke to my soul. I was in rapture.

The GN panel was one of the friendliest, non-fighting, no bicker groups I’d ever been involved with over the years. They were gracious, excited and they KNEW THEIR STUFF. Even those new to the genre made it their business to know it, to explore the artform and to find those books that were nominated. Panelists in small towns with no graphic novels in their libraries made it their business to find, promote and get those books into their schools and libraries. The other panels that were part of the whole seemed to have had the same experience – a fabulous one.

When we submitted our final choices to the second round judges, we felt that we’d done our category proud – that we had absolutely submitted the cream of the crop. We stayed in touch, stayed involved, avidly watched the other panels selections, read them too and cheered the winners when they won.

I was hooked.

Second year I was chosen for GN again and had much the same experience. Same with third and fourth, though my fourth year with the Cybils was much more muted as I was going through some health problems that made me very weary. I honestly didn’t think I’d be back for a 5th year. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be well or even here to do it. Not only am I here, I’m strong and healthy and getting more like my old self each day.

This year, I’m not only not in my old comfort zone the GN panel but I am handling the social media for the Cybils. I’m mostly the one who is Tweeting from @cybils though the others chime in on occasion. If you’re getting hit with mega Tweets about literature, poetry, books, art, authors, publishing, etc that would be me cluttering your stream.

I’m in a new panel this year. Still first round but with another dear love of mine – poetry. I’m excited, a little nervous and very proud to be with the Cybils for yet another year.

Follow us on Twitter, fan us on Facebook, support us by buying Cybils swag and sport our bling on your blogs and websites. Most of all get those nominations in and keep reading!

It’s going to be a wild ride…