A Poetry Collection
By Gary Soto
Illustrated by David Diaz
cover image retrieved 10/11/12 fromhttp://www.garysoto.com/poetry.html
Soto, Gary. Neighborhood Odes: A Poetry Collection. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1992. ISBN 9780756950613.
The glories of the everyday are depicted in this collection of poems that wind their way through a neighborhood. Delightful images of a barrio full of personality convey the interesting details of the neighborhood. Poems detail such common items as a tortilla, tennis shoes, and a cat. Readers absorb the warmth of the descriptions as Mr. Soto relates the stories of the neighborhood in lyrical language. An ending glossary comes to the aide of readers who are unable to decipher the meaning of Spanish words sprinkled through the poems to add authenticity and flavor.
A feast for the literary palate, Neighborhood Odes celebrates the common things that make a neighborhood special. Mr. Soto takes great care to select a variety of subject matter, both to support the cultural authenticity of the Hispanic setting and to communicate the importance of the heritage of the neighborhood. A moderate amount of Spanish is included throughout the poetry, adding flavor and realism. Students often speak in a mix of English and a little Spanish in their daily conversations; this cultural norm carries over well into the poems, which artfully come across as conversational between the poet and reader. Of the twenty-one poems, ten have Spanish words in the title. Context clues, occasional illustrations, and a glossary clue in any reader who is unsure of foreign word meanings.
The inclusion of Spanish words in the poems captures the intimacy of the neighborhood stroll. Each poem is entitled “Ode to _____”. The use of Spanish terms in some of the titles is enchanting, inviting the reader to begin to figure out the meaning. In “Ode to el Guitarrón”, the reader is given several clues that this is a musical instrument: “I place it between my legs like a cello and thump the strings;” “The neighborhood kids ……. Come running to ask, “¿Que us?” “Música” I tell them with pride. “Do you want another song?” Such is the magic of interlingual text to entertain and inspire the reader.
Illustrations by award winner David Diaz add complexity to the poetry. Rendered completely in black and white, the block illustrations are extravagant, with a mystical feel. People in the illustrations are shown with both light and dark skin, underscoring the mix of ethnic identities that make up the Spanish culture. Squash, pumpkins, tropical flowers, and clothing are representative of the culture. While the poems outnumber the illustrations, the ten pictures add great meaning and detail to the poems.
This is an interesting look at a neighborhood, whether considering the culture or not. Readers who are eager to learn new vocabulary, get a taste of a real barrio, or who are intrigued by the idea of looking at a place through a different lens will like this book. I recommend it for upper elementary through high school.
Carolyn Phelan (Booklist, June 15, 1992 (Vol. 88, No. 20))
Set in a Mexican American neighborhood, these odes celebrate subjects such as tortillas, tennis shoes, libraries, pinatas, weddings, and pomegranates. Sprinkled throughout the unrhymed verse, Spanish words give a flavor of difference, though many of the experiences are universal. Recommended for larger poetry collections and libraries seeking Hispanic voices.
CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1992)
Twenty-one poems reflect pleasures, loves, joys, regrets and fears experienced growing up in a Chicano neighborhood in California. The poet hones in on the small details of ordinary places (the park, the library) and ordinary things (a sprinkler, Pablo's tennis shoes) with such extraordinary clarity of vision that each ode packs an emotional punch, taking the reader by surprise.
Awards; Best Book Lists
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, Tenth Edition, 1993 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Eureka! California in Children's Literature, 2003 ; Book Wholesalers, Inc.; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of the Social Studies, 1992 ; National Council for the Social Studies NCSS; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 1993 ; American Library Association; United States
· Find out more about Neighborhood Odes: A Poetry Collection and Gary Soto at his website http://www.garysoto.com/poetry.html
· Explore other books that combine English and Spanish in their text, such as those highlighted at http://www.readingrockets.org/articles/books/c367/ . Students will compile a list of Spanish words and their meanings. Use the words to create an original concrete or freestyle poem written in English, but containing Spanish words that have context clues or illustrations to explain their meanings.
· Gary Soto says on his website that he believes in the art of letter writing, and encourages students to practice it. Hence, he does not list his email address, only his physical address. http://www.garysoto.com/contact.html Students will compose a letter in proper format to send to Mr. Soto giving their opinions about bilingual books and/or his poetry.
· The illustrations in this book are black and white block art. Students will select a poem from the book and create a full-color illustration for it, paying attention to include details that will help the reader understand Spanish words in the poem.
· Students will construct their own class piñata, or work in small groups to construct piñatas. Instead of filling them with candy, which is against State Nutritional Guidelines, students will fill the piñatas with small trinkets, hand-drawn pictures, and kind words, similar to fortune cookie strips that say something positive. Arrange for students to read the Gary Soto poem “Ode to la Piñata” to a younger class, and take along their piñata for the students to break open and enjoy.
· Students will research Spanish-speaking countries and English-speaking countries. They will then construct a chart showing the comparison of countries with each of these languages as their predominant language.
Other Books by Gary Soto
Partly Cloudy: Poems of love and longing (Harcourt, 2009)
A Simple Plan (Chronicle Books, 2007)
One Kind of Faith (Chronicle Books, 2003)
Junior College (1997)
New and selected poems (Chronicle Books, 1995) National Book Award finalist
Canto Familiar/Familiar Song (1994)
Neighborhood Odes (1992)
Home Course in Religion (1991)
Who Will Know Us? (1990)
Black Hair (1985)
Where Sparrows Work Hard (1981)
The Tale of Sunlight (1978)
The Elements of San Joaquin (1977)
Young Adult/Children's Books
Baseball in April (1990)
A Fire in My Hands (1991)
Taking Sides (1991)
Pacific Crossing (1992)(Sequel to Taking Sides added by DaeQuan Jones)
Too Many Tamales (1992)
The Skirt (1992)
The Pool Party (1993)
Local News (1993)
7th grade (1994)
Crazy Weekend (1994)
Boys at Work (1995)
Summer On Wheels (1995)
Canto Familiar (1995)
The Cat's Meow (1997)
Fearless Fernie (2002)
If the Shoe Fits (2002)
When Dad Came Back (2011) ebook
Beginning in 1995 with Chato's Kitchen (Chato y su cena), Soto released a series of children's picture books in Spanish and English about a real, cool cat (gato), a low rider from the barrio of East Los Angeles. They were illustrated by Susan Guevara, and the second one Chato and the Party Animals (Chato y los amigos pachangueros.) (2000) won the Pura Belpre Medal for best illustration in 2002. The series continued with Chato Goes Cruisin' (2004)  and Chato's Day of Dead (2006).
Anthologies as editor
Entrance: Four Latino Poets (1976)
California Childhood (1988)
Pieces of Heart (1993)
Living Up the Street (1985), American Book Award
Small Faces (1986)
Lesser Evils: Ten Quartets (1988)
A Summer Life (1990)
The Effects of Knut Hamsun on a Fresno Boy (2001)
PlaysNovio Boy: A play (2006)