Immersive & Experiential Learning

experiential learning

Passing along an excellent article I got wind of from my publisher, Arte Público Press. The article, by Tom Vander Ark in Forbes, chronicles the move from competencies that enable students to pass standardized tests to “immersive and experiential learning, strong guidance, a focus on success skills and becoming a contributing citizen.”

I’m no education expert, but in my view, as a mother, grandmother and YA author, this is exactly where we should be going.



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The Massacre at Porvenir

Texas Rangers

I am now busy researching and writing the sequel to Evangelina Takes Flight.  One part of history I am learning more about is the frequent and sometimes state-sanctioned barbarism and murder perpetrated against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans between 1910-1920. This article from the Associated Press characterizes the massacre in Porvenir, Texas in 1918 and many other instances of torture, lynching and terror.


For more information, please go to Refusing to Forget. From their homepage:

Between 1910 and 1920 ethnic Mexicans living on the Texas-Mexico border were targets of state-sanctioned violence. Although historians estimate that several thousand Mexican nationals and American citizens were killed, this period of violence has received little public attention.
Refusing to Forget, an educational non-profit, hopes that in bringing public awareness to this often forgotten period, we can also raise the profile of a struggle for justice and civil rights that continues to influence social relationships today.


And, speaking of the sequel, it will more definitively be young adult than middle grade. The massacre of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans will be part of the story’s political backdrop. From chapter 1:

It’s been almost four years since we arrived in Seneca, hopeful but scared. Scared for my older sister, brother-in-law and grandfather whom we left behind, scared about what life in America would hold for us, scared about how the Anglos would treat us.

I loved my stable, predictable life in Mariposa and would have lived there forever, if it had not been so dangerous to stay.

 But, if we hadn’t come here, I never would have met Doctor Taylor or Selim.

And, I wouldn’t be in the Haller County Jail accused of murder.

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LunaI had foot surgery recently and have been laid up almost completely – no pressure on the foot for 4 weeks. Given that I’ll be in this rather potato-like state for a while, I decided to hold my breath, make a wish and dive in to an Evangelina Takes Flight sequel.

I’ve had some ideas floating around my head for a sequel but didn’t have enough, or in any order to make for an entire storyline, that is, until I found myself with all this time on my hands (not on my feet).

Writing a historical fiction is a serious commitment due to the amount of research that has to be done on top of the story development and writing itself. Four chapters in and I already love where the story is leading me. And the research – the surprising and illuminating research! There’s at least one thing on every page I have to check into.

The story is set in 1914.

  • When did the position of sheriff become an elected one?
  • When did murder “by degrees” come into being?
  • What kinds of food would have been typical in southwest county jails?
  • Who was the first female Mexican-American doctor in the US and what was her journey to success like?
  • What exactly was happening in the Mexican Revolution that year?
  • Are there any cases in US history of curanderos (or “healers”) from Mexico being tried for witchcraft?
  • What would a smart-looking and not too overdone ladies hat have looked like; what would it have been made of and adorned with?
  • Were there many (if any) female reporters in the newspaper industry and what did they write about?

Evangelina Takes Flight was bestowed with some notable awards due to its historical authenticity, and I pledge to take as much care with the research on the sequel. I have so much to learn, and oh, what fun it will be!

PS: the photo is of Luna (and Diego in the background). They’ve been good company while I recuperate and type, type, type.

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The Raiders are Coming! ~Book Review~

Somehow I missed this review of Evangelina Takes Flight, posted in October 2018 on the site Books YA Love. The *reviewer did an excellent job capturing the suspenseful elements of the novel.

The raiders are coming! Evangelina Takes Flight with her family, by Diana J. Noble (book review)

book cover of Evangelina Takes Flight, by Diana J. Noble, published by Pinata Books | recommended on Pancho Villa‘s rebels are coming!
Carry what you can and flee – or be killed!
But refugees aren’t welcomed when they cross into Texas…

So much for 13-year-old Evangelina to cope with now – a girl trying to steal her suitcase on the train (with grandfather’s secret box inside!), store signs in the Texas town that say “No Mexicans” (where can they buy food?), and wondering if they can ever go home to Mexico (is anyone safe there?).

The story is set in 1911, but many things still resonate today in the borderlands.

Book info: Evangelina Takes Flight / Diana J. Noble. Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press, 2017.

My book talk: Pancho Villa and his rebel soldiers are coming? As big sister celebrates her quinceanera before the family flees their northern Mexico rancho, Evangelina worries about little Tomas’ recovering so slowly from a scorpion sting, whether grandfather can travel north with them, what they will find at her aunt’s house in Texas.

By mule wagon, with the men herding their best cattle on another trail, Evangelina’s mother gets the children to the crowded train station, but the journey onward is anything but smooth, and the Texas border town holds no welcome for refugees.

Why is wailing woman La Llorona coming into her dreams?
Will the townspeople’s prejudice keep her and Dr. Taylor from saving lives?
What is in the box grandfather gave her for safekeeping?

Evangelina might even be brave enough to attend the town meeting where rich white people are demanding that only white children can attend the school!


*Katy Manck, MLS Librarian-at-large & independent book reviewer recommends great books beyond the bestseller lists, rather than reviewing every YA book she reads.

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“I don’t speak Mexican…”

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Map

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Maui with friends. Like most Hawaii tourists, we spent time on the beach, by the pool and at a few cultural sites, if you can call the Ocean Vodka and Rum Distillery a cultural site.

One evening, we hung out with a nice group of folks at a barbecue. I enjoyed the band (dancing!) and meeting new people. The speedbump in my otherwise fun evening? The conversation with a gruff-looking but affable guy who told me, “I  tried to get a job in Texas, but no one would hire me because I don’t speak *Mexican. This is America!”

You might think I got my knickers in a twist over that, but I didn’t. More like I did an eye roll (an inside sentiment rather than an outward facial expression) and let out a heavy sigh.

I was the guest of a friend, the guy had clearly downed a few too many beers (local vodka or rum from the distillery?), and I didn’t know him from Adam, plus he was the size of a brown bear, the kind that ripped Leonardo DiCaprio to shreds in that movie, so, I chose to keep my mouth shut except to say, “Uh-huh.”

You have to pick your moments. Unknown big drunk dudes do not make the best verbal sparring partners. And to be honest, he otherwise seemed like a really nice fellow.

Given people’s relative absence of knowledge about Mexico’s history and its MAJOR impact on the US, I wonder how many know that a large swath of the US was originally part of Mexico?

From the Library of Congress:

The first Mexicans to become part of the United States never crossed any border. Instead, the border crossed them.

Spanish-speaking people have lived in North America since the Spaniards colonized Mexico in the sixteenth century, and Mexicans have always played a crucial role in the continent’s culture and history. Mexican culture brought many firsts to North America: The first Thanksgiving took place in either New Mexico or El Paso; the first university in North America was founded in Mexico City; the first printing press on the continent arrived in Mexico in 1538, more than a century before printing came to New England.

Mexicans first arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598 and founded the city of Santa Fe in 1610. By 1800, Spain had governed Mexico as a colony for almost 300 years. Although Spaniards held positions of power, the people of Mexico were primarily mestizos–people of both Spanish and indigenous heritage.

The northern sections of Mexico, especially the lands north of the Rio Grande, were lightly populated well into the 19th century. Mexican government officials, merchants, and a few trappers and hunters from the U.S. lived in small settlements, mostly around a series of mission churches. This arrangement remained largely undisturbed after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.

In 1846, everything changed. War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico over the U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico was defeated, and in 1848 the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty gave the victorious nation an enormous amount of land, including what would later become the states of California and Texas, as well as parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, in exchange for a token payment of $15 million.

One more important piece of land changed hands in 1854, when the U.S. bought what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico from the Mexican government for $10 million. This land deal, known as the Gadsden Purchase, brought the U.S. a much-coveted railroad route, and helped open the West to further expansion.

With two strokes of a pen, the larger nation had expanded its size by one-third. And almost overnight, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens had become residents of the United States.

Regarding the use of the Spanish language by those who were once Mexicans and became North Americans by way of a war, treaty and real estate deal between the two countries, I find this article by Pamela Oliver to be an excellent source of information and fodder for discussion.

Perhaps if I ever see that man again, I will ask him to read the article and meet me for coffee and a friendly debate.

*For goodness sake! There is no “Mexican language.” It’s called Spanish.

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Book Review by Romeo Rosales, Jr.

Romeo Rosales, Jr

Thrilled and grateful to see this review of Evangelina Takes Flight by Romeo Rosales, Jr. posted on the Goodreads website. Mr Rosales is the Collections and Acquisitions Librarian at BiblioTech, the only 100% digital library in the country, located in San Antonio, TX. He’s also a contributor for Book Riot and Public Libraries Online, an author, blogger and historian.

“What a great, timely novel by a talented writer. Noble’s novel comes to life and should resonate with readers of all ages. Her cursory exploration of the struggle Mexican families faced during the revolution hit home for me. Although fictional, this book is definitely based off her actual family’s dilemma during the Mexican Revolution: Should we stay or should we go? Being a product of the Rio Grande Valley, a Texas – Mexico border region, I recall hearing stories about families who fled the revolution and settled in Texas towns all along the Rio Grande. Their stories, having been marginalized for too long, deserve to be told. The characters in this story are well-developed and the book reads so well, that it is quite literally hard to put down. This beautiful story of tragedy, love and loss is an important piece of literature that belongs among the pantheon of books of the same topic. I highly recommend this read for all those who have ever wondered, or even considered, the true perplexity of the relationship between Texas and Mexico.”         

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Panelist @ Texas Library Association Conference – Tuesday, April 16, 10 am

Thrilled to be invited back 2 years in a row! And, bonus! It’s in Austin this year. Before my official duties begin, my husband and I plan to spend some time with cousin Joaquín and his lovely wife, Heather, in central Texas wine country. Here we come!

If you’d like me to speak at YOUR event, or school or library or book club, check out the “Author Interactions” tab on the front page of this site for more information.

With the 2019 school year coming to a close, now is the time to plan author visits for Hispanic Heritage Month in the September/October timeframe. While I believe the themes in Evangelina Takes Flight are highly relevant all year long, Hispanic Heritage Month is a perfect opportunity to highlight Mexican history, accomplishments, contributions and culture.

TLA Conf Schedule 2019

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Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books About and by People of Color

“Imagine a day when all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” ~We Need Diverse Books

Laredo Public Library 7.11.17

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has released its annual publishing statistics on children’s books about people of color and First/Native Nations, as well as titles written by people of color and First/Native Nations authors and illustrators.

Of all the children’s and youth books published in 2017, less than 6% had significant Latinx content/characters, and only 2% were written by Latino authors. 18% of the United States population is Hispanic or Latino. Sources: Lee & Low Publishers, US Census

While the data below shows a level of improvement, there is more progress to be made.

CCBC Stats for Multicultural Books_Authors

We Need Diverse Books™ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. To support We Need Diverse Books, check out their website.

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Wonderful Time with the Kids from Icicle Creek Middle & Cascade High Schools

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I will always cherish my time with the students at Icicle Creek Middle and Cascade High Schools in stunning Leavenworth, WA followed by a book signing at A Book for All Seasons. The kids energized and inspired me (smart, polite, curious, totally engaged!), and the librarian, Amy, was a most gracious host. Thanks to her and Theresa at the bookstore for arranging everything. I wrote Evangelina Takes Flight so I could have exactly these types of experiences! My school presentation is part “Mexican Revolution history + my personal author’s journey talk” and part Evangelina Takes Flight Jeopardy which the kids seem to love, judging by all the raised hands and enthusiasm in the room!

If you’d like me to visit your school, library or book club, check out the author interactions section of this site.

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Recipe – Smoky Mexican Charro Beans


I looked over the recipes on my blog today and was surprised to see that I’d never posted a recipe for Mexican Charro beans, the high protein staple of many Mexican kitchens! My own family ate them 3-4 times a week, sometimes more.

Serve them with scrambled eggs, pico de gallo and hot flour tortillas for a do it yourself breakfast burrito. Serve them for lunch with rice cooked in spiced chicken broth and a side of guacamole and tortilla chips, or serve them with enchiladas, inside burritos, alongside tacos, fideo, chile verde, chile relleno, tostadas or just about anything else!



  • 1 lb (2 cups) dried pinto beans, sorted and rinsed
  • 1/2 pound bacon, chopped (my Abuelita used a ham hock)
  • 2 T corn or canola oil for sautéing
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, split, deveined, seeded and minced (or just half a jalapeño if you don’t want that much heat)
  • 1/2 c chopped cilantro
  • ground cumin, salt, pepper

These beans are served whole (rather than mashed). You can also take these same beans and mash them into a smoother, bacony concoction much like you see in Mexican restaurants.

  • Put 1 lb (2 cups) of dried pinto beans in a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Remove any whole or partial beans that are significantly discolored. You also want to check for pebbles and clumps of dirt. Unless you want to eat pebbles and dirt, but I don’t recommend it.
  • To get rid of the stuff that causes gas, use one of these 2 techniques:
    1. Put the beans in a pot and cover them with water (plus about 4 extra inches). Let soak overnight and drain the beans in a colander in the morning.
    2. Cover the beans with water (plus a few extra inches) and bring them to a full boil. Turn them off and drain the beans in a colander.
  • Put the prepared beans into a crock pot and cover with up to 3 extra inches of water. Cover and cook on high up to 4 hours or medium up to 6 hours. Do not add any spices at this stage. If you add salt too early, the beans will stay hard!
  • Cut half a pound of bacon into small chunks and brown until medium-crispy.
  • In a separate skillet heat the oil and sauté 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 finely chopped jalapeño (seeded and deveined), 4 cloves minced fresh garlic and 3 diced plum tomatoes.
  • When the beans in the crockpot are soft and easily pierced with a fork, add the bacon (with some of the bacon grease, but not all) and the onion-tomato mixture.
  • Stir in 1/2 c chopped cilantro.
  • Stir in 1 t ground cumin.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook another half hour uncovered to let the bacon soften up and infuse that smoky flavor.

Serve in bowls – the liquid the beans have cooked in is delicious!


Using a large cooking spoon, remove some (not all) of the liquid from the fully cooked beans before adding the onions, tomatoes and spices. Leave at least 1 extra inch of cooking liquid or the beans will be dry.

After adding the onions, tomatoes and spices, use a potato masher to mash the beans to the desired consistency. I have a Braun hand-blender which is much easier. I just plug it in, plunge the hand-blender into the beans and blend.

Note: Black beans, not pinto beans, are more commonly served in Mexico’s southern region.


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