- Age Range: 5 - 7 years
- Grade Level: Kindergarten - 2
- Lexile Measure: 650L (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 40 pages
- Publisher: Wings Press; Bilingual edition (April 1, 2008)
- Language: Spanish, English
- ISBN-10: 0916727335
- ISBN-13: 978-0916727338
- Product Dimensions: 12 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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That's Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca's Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia (Spanish and English Edition) Hardcover – April 1, 2008
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2–6—The title of this bilingual biography echoes the theme of the life of a legendary Mexican-American activist in Texas during the 1920s and 1930s. The story moves from Tenayuca's childhood introduction to the poverty and unfair treatment of Mexican Americans living in her hometown of San Antonio to her increasing awareness of the injustice they suffered, and ultimate fight for their civil rights. Their plight made her angry: "She saw so many people go to work when it was still dark and not come home again until late at night. Many worked so many hours that they were coughing and sick, and still they did not earn enough to feed their children." In 1938, at the age of 21, she led a successful strike of 12,000 pecan shellers whose pitiful wages had been cut from six cents to three cents an hour. In an afterword, which includes photographs of Tenayuca, the rest of her story is related: jailed many times, forced to move, she eventually worked her way through college and returned later to San Francisco as a reading teacher for migrant children. Ybáñez's striking illustrations, framed by pecan-tree branches, are reflective of traditional Mexican mural art, with bold colors and simple shapes. An important book celebrating the struggle for justice and civil rights.—Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
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This handsome picture-book biography in English and Spanish relates the struggle of Mexican American farmworkers in the early twentieth century through the perspectiive of Emma Tenayuca, who became a labor activist. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, in the early twentieth century, Tenayuca was shocked by the gross inequality around her, comparing her comfortable home to the extreme poverty of the many families of factory and farmworkers. As a smart, kind teenager, she spoke in public about the plight of the pecan shellers in the factories, and at 21, in 1938, she led 12,000 workers in a strike that forced factory owners to raise wages. Co-authored by the late Tenayuca’s niece and one of the activist’s friends, the story is heavy on exclamatory messages. Yet the stirring, unfamiliar chapter in labor history and the humanitarian efforts of Tenayuca herself will intrigue children, who will also like the bold, mural-like illustrations, which show a child confronting suffering and growing up to make a difference. Pair this with Francisco Jiménez’s personal stories and with Sí Se Puede! Yes We Can (2002). Grades 2-4. --Hazel Rochman
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The illustrations nicely complement the themes of the story, the rights of Mexican-American laborers and pecan-shellers, and reinforce Emma’s bold agency throughout. In a review of the book, Beverly Slapin of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, comments upon the illustrations: “Ybáñez’s full-bleed double-spread illustrations, rendered in watercolor and pen-and-ink on a palette of bold, flat colors with bright highlights, are reminiscent of traditional Mexican murals. While Emma’s red sweater on almost every page focuses the reader’s attention on the subject, the pecan trees and branches that frame each illustration focus the reader’s attention on the issue.” Indeed, the illustrations, as you can seen in the image to the right, subtly show images of trees (the border) and pecans (the illustration on the back wall), reminding readers of the issues at hand. This story, though inspired by real events, reads as a picture book with bright, kid-friendly illustrations. In contrast, the last page of the book provides non-fiction, historical information about Tenayuca, as well as black and white photos of her in the midst of civic engagement. This tale is also written by Emma Tenayuca’s niece as well as one of her friends, adding a layer of intimacy to the biographical telling.
Tenayuca was born in 1916 in San Antonio, Texas. She was one of eleven children and at a young age she was sent to live with her grandparents. As readers will see throughout the story, Emma’s grandfather played a very important part in both her personal life, and in her community activism. According to the synopsis at the back of this book, Tenayuca’s feats of activism marked the beginning of a long history of civil rights movements: “Historians regard this action as the beginning of the Mexican-American struggle for civil rights and justice.”
The story starts in the year 1925, when Emma is 9 years old. As Emma walks on her way to school, she passes other communities of Mexican-Americans and she is struck by the scarcity of their food and clothes. While Emma is moved by the instances of extreme poverty all around her, she also feels discouraged by her inability to help; the food she offers the children on the street will quickly run out, and once again they will be in need. However, when Emma decides to teach her young neighbor how to read, she realizes, this “would last her forever.” While exposing readers to the history of poverty and human rights abuses that Mexican-American workers suffered here in the United States, this story also emphasizes the importance of education in a move towards civil rights.
Emma’s attention is focused especially on the rights of the pecan shellers, or nueceros, who worked long hours and developed a variety of health conditions from an unsafe and unhealthy factory environment: “She saw so many people go to work when it was still dark and not come home again until late at night. Many worked so many hours that they were coughing and sick, and still they did not earn enough to feed their children.” Many of the nueceros were women and children.
As the story progresses, Emma teaches the nueceros how to organize and resist. A review by De Colores contributes to the biographical information presented by the book:
"By the time she was 16, young Emma had already been jailed several times. ‘I never thought in terms of fear,’ she later said, ‘I thought in terms of justice.’ A brilliant orator, activist and educator at a time when Mexican and Mexican American women were not expected to speak out, Emma became known as ‘La Pasionaria,’ and took on one battle after another. In 1938, Emma was asked to lead the strike of some 12,000 pecan shellers, most of them Mexican women; and in fewer than two months, they forced the factory owners to raise their pay. This historic victory was the first significant win for Mexican American workers in the struggle for political and economic justice."
Emma Tenayuca is an important figure in the history of Mexican-American rights and of the U.S. overall. Yet, she is still one of the lesser-known labor rights figures. For teachers looking to diversify their classroom texts, this book would be a perfect way to complicate students’ understanding of immigrants, women’s rights, and the history of labor rights in the U.S. This book could surely inspire a lesson plan on history, social movements and civil rights, while focusing on lesser-known biographies.
The book offers students another valuable lesson through the relationship Emma shares with her grandfather. When Emma speaks with him about the horrible injustices that she witnesses, he tells her, “Sometimes things are not fair. But still, each one of us can usually do something about it, even if it’s just a little thing.” This is an important message for young readers who may be struggling with a growing awareness of hardship and injustice: you can always help, even if it is just a little bit.
This wonderful story has received an abundance of great reviews and we are adding our voice to the choir. Emma Tenayuca’s biography provides a perfect way to teach kids about the history of Mexican-Americans in the United States, as well as values of education, activism, and social and justice.
For access to the full review and additional resources, check out our Vamos a Leer blog at teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.com
The authors focus on Emma's childhood and her awakening empathy with Mexican-American laborers. Emma was not born poor: she attended school in San Antonio, Texas, and had enough clothes and food. Yet she encountered children who could not learn to read because they were working as farm laborers. She saw kids who didn't have enough to eat, and not enough clothes to keep them warm.
Even as a schoolgirl, Emma taught a friend to read, and gave food and clothing to children in need. As a teenager, she began to give speeches about the injustices suffered by Mexican-American laborers. In 1938, she led 12,000 pecan shellers in a two-month strike that resulted in higher wages.
Because it focuses mostly on Emma's childhood, his book will appeal to kids in the lower elementary grades. Kids may not understand the concept of labor unions, but they do understand fairness, and that's what this book emphasizes. The pictures are colorful, simple, and appealing. The text is printed in both English and Spanish.
I have included this book in my online Gender Equality Bookstore.