Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Big Read!

(Above: Rudolfo Anaya, author of classic coming-of-age novel, Bless Me Ultima.)

This month, people all across Baltimore have joined MPT and the Enoch Pratt Free Library to celebrate the power of words by reading Rudolfo Anaya’s classic coming-of-age novel Bless Me Ultima, part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read.

Reading Bless Me Ultima is more than just a "good thing to do," like eating your vegetables. This is a fascinating, exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad story of a young boy growing up in a small New Mexico village, and an extraordinary window into another world. Young Antonio Marez's quiet life is changed when his Aunt Ultima comes to live with his family. Ultima, with an owl in tow, is a curandera (a healer—what we might call a practitioner of herbal medicine), and helps to teach Antonio about life and many of her secrets on his path to adulthood.

For all the differences between our world and Antonio’s, as I read, I found myself identifying with him and the conflict between his father's wild vaquero (cowboy) brothers and his mother's more sedate farming relatives. I’m sure others will also see themselves in him as he wrestles with his parents' conflicting expectations, as well as the tensions between Hispanic and mainstream American culture in his village.

For younger readers, MPT and the Pratt are also sponsoring a “Little Read,” with Anaya’s picture book The First Tortilla—the story of Jade, a young village girl who is told by a blue hummingbird to take a gift to the Mountain Spirit to bring much-needed rain to her small Mexican village. This heartwarming story is prefect for parents to read along with their children, and help bring them into the excitement of the Big Read.

Book discussions and programs focusing on Bless Me Ultima and The First Tortilla are being held throughout the month of May at libraries and recreation centers around the city. Come check us out!

Poet and librarian Reginald Harris (reggieh.blogspot.com) has received Individual Artist Awards for both poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council. He is Help Desk and Training Manager for the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

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