Module 3 – Newbery/Printz/Coretta Scott King/Pura Belpre Winners/SLIS 5420
Cofer, Judith Ortiz. (1995). An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. New York: Orchard Books.
An Island Like You is a well-written book of short stories about Puerto Rican teens in a New Jersey neighborhood. They struggle with everything from gender roles, sexual orientation, limited expectations, limited opportunities, stereotypes, gangs and bullies, absent parents, peer pressure, self esteem and identity issues – all within the context of the Puerto Rican culture in which they live, struggling with the cultural expectations that they at once embrace and long to escape. Cofer brilliantly intersects characters’ lives from story to story without creating a novel or being heavy handed with the connections. These portraits are authentically drawn by the author, and the experiences of the teenagers are ones that any teenager can relate to, regardless of culture or environment.
“In these twelve short stories, Coffer explores ethnicity in Paterson, New Jersey, where these Puerto Rican teenagers live. They complain about parents and trapped lives but also discuss boyfriends and beauty secrets. Coffer shows how teenagers think and respond in stereotypes. She lets the reader see that stereotypical thinking also has affected the way the reader reads. Not only do these teenagers reject their grandparents, but they also reject retarded adults, unwed teen mothers, and their heritage. Coffer also utilizes local color and the Spanish language to validate the experiences of these teenagers, whether at the local pool, the school, or El Building. Most of the stories are told from a first-person female point of view. A couple are third-person with a male protagonist. Students will learn much about perspective. Reading Coffer’s book is like living in El Building and getting to know the neighborhood.”
Zuwiyya, Nancy E. (2002). Review of An Island Like You. The ALAN Review.
This book is ideal for teaching short stories in an accessible way, as well as teaching a writing section. Using the book for reading the stories aloud and then assigning the students to write a short story in a similar manner (possibly about a personal experience) would teach students to analyze stories and to practice writing skills. To make students comfortable with revealing personal information, the teacher could explain the way that writers often take pieces of their own lives and “rearrange” or change them so that the essence of the story is still true to life, but the details are changed to protect the author’s privacy. The book would also be useful in a literature class where identity and culture are being discussed.