Thursday, October 13, 2005

Becoming Naomi Leon

Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2004. BECOMING NAOMI LEON. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439269695 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

There are three things that 11-year-old Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw is good at. One is soap carving, a hobby she took up shortly after going to live with Gram, her great-grandmother. The second is making lists. Among her many lists are “Splendid Words” and “Unusual Names.” And the third thing Naomi is good at is worrying. She worries about Gram dying because she is so old, and she worries that Owen, her younger brother, will “never be right.” Owen was born with his head tilted to one side and with one leg shorter than the other. Owen also has a strange way of coping with distress. He sticks clear tape to his clothes to calm himself. More stress simply means more tape on his shirt. In spite of her worries, Naomi is happy living at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho with Gram and Owen. She is secure in the knowledge that Gram loves them more than anything in the world. Gram, Owen, and Naomi “were knitted together snug as a new mitten.” That is, until that fateful evening when Naomi’s mother shows up after a seven-year absence and turns their world upside down. Her arrival sends Naomi on a journey (literal and figurative) of discovery for personal and cultural identity.

Pam Munoz Ryan has created unforgettable characters that readers will embrace. Told in the first person, Naomi’s story is sad, yet comical and incredible, yet believable. Ryan’s use of language is rich and her comparisons are intriguing (e.g. “Dripping wet, Gram didn’t weigh a hundred pounds….Now, sitting down with her skinny neck drooping over the table, she looked like a swan peering into a lake.”). The story’s plot is riveting. Readers will find themselves cheering for Naomi, Gram, and Owen as they go on the run and fight to keep the family together.
Children can discover the origins of La Noche de los Rabanos, an event unique to Oaxaca. They can discuss traditions that are unique to their cultures or to their families.

Create sculptures using a bar of soap. Instructions for this activity can be found at

Peck, Richard. A YEAR DOWN YONDER. ISBN 0613579348
Ryan, Pam Munoz. ESPERANZA RISING. ISBN 0439120411

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

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