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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 2: Engagement and Dialogue - Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Judith Otriz Cofer
Biography
Work
Interview
Nikki Grimes
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
An Island Like You

In these twelve stories, Judith Ortiz Cofer depicts the lives of several Puerto Rican teenagers in a barrio in Paterson, New Jersey. Like Ortiz Cofer, they live between two cultures and must struggle to find their place in the world. For example, the opening story, "Bad Influence," explores what happens when a girl named Rita is sent to stay with her grandparents in Puerto Rico, a place that at first feels "like I was in a Star Trek rerun where reality is being controlled by an alien and you don't know why weird things are happening all around you until the end of the show." In "Arturo's Flight," a teenage punk poet, ridiculed at his school for being different, learns something about being true to himself from an old man he meets in a church. In "An Hour with Abuelo," this same teenager reluctantly visits his old abuelo, or grandfather, in a nursing home; by the end of his visit, the boy's expectations have been turned upside down.

Ortiz Cofer says that she tried to give every teenager in the book "a moment of revelation" -- a time where they "see the light." In "Matoa's Mirror," a boy named Kenny goes to a party, and then, addled by drugs, experiences a violent situation. In a later story, another character reflects on how Kenny has changed: since that happened, "he's been a different person and spends a lot of time in his house." In "Catch the Moon," Ortiz Cofer introduces Luis Cintron, who has lost his mother and has a shaky relationship with his father. Luis earns "a moment of grace" when he does something special for someone else.

Ortiz Cofer says that in her first novel, The Line of the Sun, she wrote about a building she calls the "vertical barrio," where the first wave of Puerto Ricans came together in New Jersey. She decided that she would imagine the characters in An Island Like You "as the children and the nephews and nieces of my characters in The Line of the Sun. I decided I would set it in essentially the same neighborhood except that the kids would be the principal characters, and everything would be viewed through their eyes." Wanting her stories to be relevant to current teenagers, Ortiz Cofer consulted with her daughter and other young people "to make sure that I had the idiom right. But I also knew that lives are basically lived through the same emotional focus in every generation: every kid falls in love, every kid gets in trouble with parents, every kid rebels. I still knew what it was like to be fifteen and sixteen."

The title for An Island Like You came from a poem the author wrote that gave her "the crucial image" for the book: that of herself as a child, alone but surrounded by other people. She realized that that is what adolescence is -- "you're separating yourself from others and realizing that you are indeed an island. And that doesn't mean you're isolated; it simply means that your choices ... are yours."

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio was the first recipient of the American Library Association (ALA) Pura Belpré Award, which is presented to a Latino/a writer "whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."

back to top Next: Judith Ortiz Cofer: Interview
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