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About The Book

A young girl’s discovery of her cultural heritage helps her lovingly cope with loss in this tender tale from acclaimed authors Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel Zubizarreta.

Amalia’s best friend Martha is moving away, and Amalia is feeling sad and angry. And yet, even when life seems unfair, the loving, wise words of Amalia’s abuelita have a way of making everything a little bit brighter. Amalia finds great comfort in times shared with her grandmother: cooking, listening to stories and music, learning, and looking through her treasured box of family cards.
     But when another loss racks Amalia’s life, nothing makes sense anymore. In her sorrow, will Amalia realize just how special she is, even when the ones she loves are no longer near?
     From leading voices in Hispanic literature, this thoughtful and touching depiction of one girl’s transition through loss and love is available in both English and Spanish.

Excerpt

Love, Amalia 1. Homemade Taffy


What is it, Amalia? Is something bothering you?” Amalia’s grandmother removed the boiling honey from the stovetop to let it cool. Then she wiped her forehead with a tissue and looked at her granddaughter. The light from the setting sun entered the small window over the sink with a soft glow. The geraniums on the windowsill added a subtle hint of pink. “You are too quiet, hijita. Tell me what’s bothering you,” her grandmother insisted. “It is obvious that something is wrong.”

“It’s okay, Abuelita, de verdad. I’m fine.”

Amalia tried to sound convincing, but her grandmother continued, “Is it because Martha did not come with you today? Is she all right?”

Going to her grandmother’s home on Friday afternoon was something Amalia had been doing since she was little. For the last two years, since they started fourth grade, her friend Martha accompanied her most Fridays. Every week Amalia looked forward to the time she spent at her grandmother’s house. But today was different.

Amalia paused before answering, “She is not coming back anymore, Abuelita. ¡Nunca más!” Despite Amalia’s efforts to control her feelings, her voice cracked and her brown eyes watered.

“¿Qué pasa, hijita? What’s going on?” Amalia’s grandmother asked softly, gently hugging her and waiting for an explanation.

Amalia shook her head, as she frequently did when she was upset, and her long black hair swept her shoulders. “Martha is going away. Her family is moving west, to some weird place in California. So far away from Chicago! Today she had to go straight home to start packing. It’s not fair.”

“That must be difficult.” Her grandmother’s voice was filled with understanding, and Amalia let out a great sigh.

For a while there was silence. The sunlight faded in the kitchen, and as the boiled honey cooled into a dark, thick mass, its sweet aroma filled the air.

“Shall we knead the melcocha, then?” Amalia’s grandmother asked as she lifted the old brass pot onto the kitchen table and poured the sticky melcocha into a bowl. The thick white porcelain bowl, with a few chips that spoke of its long use, had a wide yellow rim. Once, the bowl had made Amalia think that it looked like a small sun on the kitchen table. Today she was too upset to see anything but the heavy bowl.

They washed their hands thoroughly in the sink and dried them. Her grandmother’s kitchen towels each had a day of the week embroidered in a different color. Since today was Friday, the cross-stitched embroidery spelled viernes in azul marino, deep blue. Abuelita had taught Amalia the days of the week and the names of the colors in Spanish using these towels. Although her grandmother never seemed to be teaching, Amalia was frequently surprised when she realized how many things she had learned from Abuelita.

After drying their hands, they slathered them with soft butter, which prevented the taffy from sticking to their fingers or burning their skin. Then, with a large wooden spoon, Abuelita scooped some taffy from the bowl and poured it onto their hands.

As they pulled and kneaded, the taffy became softer and lighter. They placed little rolls of amber-colored taffy on pieces of waxed paper. Amalia had helped her grandmother pull the melcocha many times, but she never ceased to marvel at how the sweet taffy changed color just from being pulled, kneaded, and pulled again. It transformed from a deep dark brown into a light blond color, just like Martha’s hair. Thinking about Martha made Amalia frown.

Her grandmother might have seen her expression but made no comment about it. Rather, she said, “Wash your hands well, Amalita. Let’s sit for a moment while the taffy cools down.”

Before washing her hands, Amalia licked her fingers. Nothing tasted as good as “cleaning up” after cooking. The butter and taffy mixed together made a sweet caramel on her fingers, which was every bit as good as the raw cookie dough they “cleaned up” when she and Martha made cookies at Martha’s house.

Once Amalia had washed and dried her hands, she followed her grandmother to the living room. They both sat on the floral sofa, which brightened the room as if a piece of the garden had been brought inside the house. Abuelita’s fondness for the colors of nature could be seen in each room of her house.

“I know how hard it is when someone you love goes away. One moment you are angry, then you become sad, and then it seems so unbelievable you almost erase it. Then, when you realize it is true, the anger and the sadness come back all over again, sometimes even more painfully than before. I have gone through that many times.”

Amalia listened closely, trying to guess who her grandmother was talking about. Was she thinking of her two sons who lived far away or her daughter who always promised to visit from Mexico City but never did? Or was she referring to her husband, Amalia’s grandfather, who had died when Amalia was so young that she could not remember him?

“But one finds ways, Amalia, to keep them close,” her grandmother added. And then, smiling as if having just gotten a new idea, she said, “Ven. Come with me.” She then got up and motioned Amalia to follow her to the dining room.

Amalia just wanted to end the conversation. It was bad enough that Martha had told her that she had a surprise and it had turned out to be that Martha was moving to California very soon. Martha’s leaving sounded so definite and permanent that she hated even the thought of it. Talking about it only made Amalia feel worse. She wished she did not need to wait for her father to pick her up and could just walk home. Maybe then she could call Martha and hear her say that it all had been a great mistake and they were not moving after all. And it would all disappear like bad dreams do in the morning.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide for

Love, Amalia (Con cariño, Amalia)
By Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

About the Book

Amalia’s best friend, Martha, is moving away, and Amalia is feeling sad and angry. And yet, even when life seems unfair, the loving, wise words of Amalia’s abuelita have a way of making everything a little bit brighter. Amalia finds great comfort in times shared with her grandmother: cooking, listening to stories and music, learning, and looking through her treasured box of family cards.

But when another loss racks Amalia’s life, nothing makes sense anymore. In her sorrow, will Amalia realize just how special she is, even when the ones she loves are no longer near?

From leading voices in Hispanic literature, this thoughtful and touching depiction of one girl’s transition through loss and love is available in both English and Spanish.

Discussion Questions

1. As the novel opens, Amalia’s abuelita tells her, “You are too quiet, hijita. Tell me what’s bothering you." Consider her grandmother’s ability to detect Amalia’s unhappiness: What can be inferred about their relationship through this interaction?

2. Consider Amalia’s tradition of going to her grandmother’s house each Friday after school. Why does the inclusion of Martha in this ritual make Amalia’s grandmother more sensitive to Amalia’s sense of loss after Martha’s move?

3. Describe Amalia. What makes her a dynamic person?

4. Abuelita tells Amalia, “I know how hard it is when someone you love goes away. One moment you are angry, then you become sad, and then it seems so unbelievable you almost erase it. Then when you realize it is true, the anger and sadness come back all over again, sometimes even more painfully than before." Though she is trying to help Amalia deal with the move of her best friend, in what ways do her grandmother’s words foreshadow the profound loss that Amalia will have to experience? Have you ever had a similar experience where you lost someone with whom you were particularly close? If so, what advice would you give someone dealing with a similar loss?

5. Look at the novel’s cover art. In what ways is the image represented symbolic of the events that transpire throughout the course of the book?

6. Why do you think Amalia chooses not to open the package given to her by Martha? Do you agree with her decision? Why or why not?

7. What does Abuelita’s focus on saving cards and letters from her family indicate about her character? Do you like to collect similar things from others? If so, what does doing so mean to you?

8. How does Martha’s move and Abuelita's death profoundly impact and change Amalia's life?

9. Why does Amalia ultimately choose to tell her grandmother about the theft incident at school before telling her parents? Do you think her grandmother was the best choice? In your opinion, was the principal’s punishment fair? What do you think Amalia ultimately learned from the experience?

10. Though grieving the loss of her grandmother is particularly difficult, Amalia realizes she is luckier than her cousins. How is this so? Have you had an opportunity to become close to a grandparent, or another relative outside of your immediate family? If so, what has made that relationship special to you?

11. After the death of her grandmother, how does Amalia uphold the customs and traditions of her abuelita? What is it about doing so that makes Amalia feel better? Do you have any traditions or customs that your family follows that are linked to family members who have passed away? What is it about preserving these that is so important?

12. Why does being given Abuelita’s olive-wood box serve as a catalyst in changing Amalia’s attitude about Martha’s move and her grandmother’s passing? Do you have a special keepsake that connects you to someone? If so, what is it about that keepsake that makes it so special?

13. Explain the significance of the title, Love, Amalia. In your opinion, does it accurately describe the events and relationships portrayed in the book?

14. Using the phrase, “This is a story about . . .” supply five words to describe Love, Amalia. Explain your choices.

Activities and Research

1. Food plays an important role throughout the novel and in Amalia’s relationship with her grandmother. Using the recipes provided at the back of the book, invite a special person in your life to help you prepare one or more of the desserts shared in the book. When finished, take the time to enjoy the company and sweet treats!

2. In our day of e-mails and text messaging, most people no longer write handwritten letters. Consider how Abuelita used her cards to share what others meant to her, and follow her example by creating cards with original art or handwritten letters. Remember, the sentiment (what you are trying to share) is the important part, so be carefree and have fun!

3. In Love, Amalia, part of Amalia’s story focuses on her connection and relationship with her family and the people that matter the most to her. Think about your own special relationships. What makes these individuals so important? Compose a personal journal entry where you share your thoughts, and be sure to answer the following questions:

• Who are the individuals who mean the most to you?
• Why are these particular relationships so special?
• What’s the greatest sacrifice you’ve made for the people you love?
• In what ways have the changes you’ve experienced in your life affected those to whom you are closest?

Share your writing with the group.

4. Consider the variety of settings for Love, Amalia: Why is each of these places important to Amalia's development? Using the descriptions provided in the book, illustrate the places you believe to be most important to her story. In addition to the illustrations, include a short explanation of the significance of each, and why you believe it is important.

5. Before Martha leaves, she gives Amalia a thick envelope, likely filled with items to help Amalia remember her by. If you were going to assemble a similar package for your closest friend, what would the contents be? Create a list of the items you would put inside for her or him and give a reason why each item would be significant to the two of you.

6. Amalia’s extended family lives in a variety of interesting places throughout the world. Using the library and the internet, do research to learn more about Mexico City, a typical ranch in Mexico, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. If you had your choice, which would you choose to visit and why?

Guide written by Rose Brock, a teacher, school librarian, and doctoral candidate at Texas Woman’s University, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Authors

Alma Flor Ada, an authority on multicultural and bilingual education, is the recipient of the 2012 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and in 2014 she was honored by the Mexican government with the prestigious OHTLI Award. She is the author of numerous award-winning books for young readers, including Dancing Home with Gabriel Zubizarreta, My Name Is María Isabel, Under the Royal Palms (Pura Belpré Medal), Where the Flame Trees Bloom, and The Gold Coin (Christopher Award Medal). She lives in California, and you can visit her at AlmaFlorAda.com.

Gabriel M. Zubizarreta draws from his experiences of raising his three wonderful daughters in his writing. He hopes his books will encourage young people to author their own destinies. He coauthored Love, Amalia and Dancing Home with Alma Flor Ada. Gabriel lives in Northern California with his family and invites you to visit his website at GabrielMZubizarreta.com.

Raves and Reviews

“Ada and Zubizarreta (Dancing Home, 2011) reunite to focus on a young Latina girl coping with loss…. The authors tackle issues of love, loss and familial ties with a sympathetic, light hand and blend Spanish words and Latino music and recipes into Amalia’s tale. A charming story, especially for children facing the loss of grandparents.”

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2012

“With sensitively drawn characters and a low-key story moving between present and past, the authors construct a portrait of a multigenerational immigrant family. The Latino culture of the family is reflected in the cooking the two do together, the memories Abuelita passes on, and all the letters she has kept from distant loved ones.”

Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2012

“Ada and Zubizaretta’s (Dancing Home)…collaboration focuses on the deep bond between Mexican-American sixth-grader Amalia and her grandmother…. The authors successfully depict family love and closeness across generations and distances…. In the final chapters…the book…takes on an authentic emotional poignancy, bringing a closing richness to this story of a girl’s first experience of loss.”

Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2012

“Amalia is upset when her best friend announces that she is moving from Chicago to California. When Martha leaves, Amalia turns to her grandmother for comfort. It is in her kitchen and at her table that the child learns not only about her family and her Mexican heritage, but also about herself…. This story utilizes a special intergenerational relationship to introduce Mexican culture and traditions within the themes of changing family and friendships. Spanish words and phrases are woven into the text…this quiet story may provide a different perspective on the loss of a loved one.”

School Library Journal, August 2012

“Latina sixth-grader Amalia is so upset by her best friend Martha’s move from their Chicago neighborhood to California that she can’t even say good-bye. When her beloved abuelita passes away suddenly a few days later, she doesn’t even have the chance to say good-bye….Sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases, this quiet story charmingly emphasizes the importance of both friendship and intergenerational relationships. It concludes with simple recipes for making some of Abuelita’s favorite desserts.”

Booklist, August 1, 2012

“A touching portrayal of love and loss…. The emotions ring true, with Amalia’s raw pain of loss and resentment respectfully and vividly depicted.”

– The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2012

Awards and Honors

  • International Latino Book Award 1st Place
  • CBC Best Children's Books of the Year
  • TX Triple Crown Nominee

Resources and Downloads

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