Use the scenes from In My Family to spark students to tell their own family stories. The intricate illustrations provide a model to emulate when describing a scene in words.
This is a book that is new to me although it was first published in 1996. Garza is a visual artist who adopts a naive approach in painting 13 scenes from her Mexican-American childhood in Kingston, Texas. Accompanying each immaculately rendered scene is a short 2 paragraph explanation in both English and Spanish. Some of the family traditions depicted are of great import, such as the “blessing on the wedding day” or going to see the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a water tank at a neighboring ranch. Others are small displays of events in this particular family’s life: a birthday party with relatives featuring a barbecue and a piñata, and a day devoted to making empanadas. These are the “small moments” that are the focus of the Teachers’ College personal narrative unit.
Most children will be able to find a connection to each of the scenes from Garza’s childhood. My students aren’t likely to have seen a horned lizard, but they have each participated in an animal spotting that frightened them. You could use the stories from In My Family to prompt kids to tell their own family stories. As little one paragraph stories, they’d be seed ideas that kids might want to return to when it’s time to draft a personal narrative. Below are the questions that follow naturally from the scenes in the book:
Have you had a memorable birthday party, or been to a birthday party you remember?
Do you have a trick to get water out of your ear, or get rid of the hiccups?
What happens to you when you are sassy with a parent?
Do you celebrate a holiday? In what way?
What story does your family like to tell?
Have you ever seen something amazing/unusual?
Have you ever been to a wedding, or been in a wedding?
What does your family like to do on summer evenings?
The illustrations show a fastidious attention to detail. The indoor scenes depict artwork on the walls, photographs on dresser tops, patterns on clothing, and even the texture of the window screens. You could have kids pick a character from The Miracle and describe him or her in detail including posture, clothing, and what the person might be thinking. Then a partner guesses which character it is. Or you could ask your students to make thought bubbles for each of the characters in The Miracle. In either case, kids are being asked to scratch below the surface. They are being asked to use the intricate detail they see in Garza’s illustrations to inspire them to describe a scene fully in words.