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Taking a Close Read Pablo Cartaya’s Each Tiny Spark

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Taking a Close Read: Pablo Cartaya’s Each Tiny Spark
By Sterling Clendenning
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya is a five star read that depicts the real challenges
of a Hispanic-American character named Emilia who calls attention to racism in
her Merryville, Georgia school. After her local school board re-drew district
attendance zones, Emilia, joined by her friend Gus, addresses the unfair effects of
the rezoning. A firestorm of racial hatred begins, and Emilia soon realizes the
prejudice of people she thought were her friends. Although the racism in the book
is not entirely eliminated, readers are glad to see that Emilia and Gus are able to
get many of their peers to question their beliefs about Hispanic-Americans.
Middle school boys and girls can appreciate teenage Emilia’s bravery as she sets an
incredible example for readers who may or may not be conscious of racism.
Certainly, many Hispanic-Americans still have fears of deportation and experience
discrimination. Cartaya has done an excellent job of portraying a teenage heroine
who possesses courage, grit, and a deep sense of fairness as she confronts others’
attitudes. Cartaya also shows readers how Hispanic-American girls, in particular,
can forge a new identity as Emilia does when she chooses to break some of the
traditional ideas that her grandmother poses. Emilia’s interests include the unlikely
past-time of welding, and in her endeavors, she moves away from wearing dresses,
celebrating quinceanera, and doing female-imposed chores such as cooking and
cleaning. Emilia’s character teaches middle school girls that they can confront
unfairness and take the risk to be the kind of woman they want to be.
In addition to the themes of racism and identity, the author also delves into
Emilia’s relationship with her dad, a U.S. veteran who suffers from PTSD,
post-traumatic stress disorder. Through their welding projects, she and her dad
develop a bond, which ultimately helps her dad heal from his war experiences.
This part of the story allows readers to understand a mental health issue. For me,
reading about Emilia’s dad’s struggle made me appreciate the challenges that
veterans face. By reading this book, kids may learn acceptance for mental health
issues and gain appreciation for the many sacrifices of our U.S. veterans.
Readers who enjoy Each Tiny Spark may also enjoy the author’s other works
that include Epic Fall of Arturo Zamora and Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak English,
both which feature Hispanic-American teens who get involved in their
communities and work hard to keep their family bonds and values intact. For those
who want to read similar books, they may read Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango
Street, also about a young Latino girl who suffers racial prejudice. A lighter read
might include The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph and The Book of The
Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. These books, along with Each Tiny
Spark, offer middle school girls and boys a chance to understand the challenges
that Hispanics and Hispanic-Americans face as they forge new identities and new
ways of living.
Epic Fall of Arturo Zamora
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak English
The House on Mango Street
Color of My Words
The Book of The Unknown Americans