C. Publisher: Scholastic Press
D. Genre: Realistic Fiction Novel, Multicultural
E. Reading Level: Grades 4-8
G.. Summary: Naomi Leon is an average upper elementary age girl who is half Mexican and half American; the mother was American and the father Mexican. She has a younger brother, named Owen, that has some physical deformities but who is very intelligent. Both Naomi and Owen live with their great-grandmother, who they call Gram. The three of them live happily at Lemon Tree trailer park in their camper, Baby Baluga. Out of no where, Naomi and Owen's mother, Skyla, shows up; Naomi barely remembers her mother and Owen doesn't have any memories of her. She left the two of them with Gram years ago to "go find her own life." Skyla brings Naomi lots of gifts but falls shy when it comes to giving Owen gifts. Skyla has a boyfriend named Clive, who is a tattoo artist in training, and he has been giving Skyla all the money to buy her children presents. Skyla is a drunk and has been in and out rehab for most of her adult life, and after awhile it becomes clear that Skyla is back for her own purposes and not those of her children. First, Skyla promises to go to after school conferences with Naomi and Owen, but instead she leaves them at the school until after dark when Gram goes to pick them up. Naomi, who at first is thrilled that her mother is back, soon realizes that her mother only really wants her and doesn't really want Owen. It even becomes clear that Naomi is only important to her mother because she can get money from the state for having her and so that she can babysit Clive's daughter. One day while Gram is sewing at the neighbors (who are also very close friends of theirs), Skyla takes Owen and Naomi to Owen's doctor visit. The whole time Naomi and Skyla are waiting for Owen, Skyla keeps sneaking off to the bathroom to drink. By the time Owen is through, Skyla is drunk and yells at the doctors for telling her there is nothing they can do for his physical appearance until he grows up a little more. When the three arrive home, Clive calls and tells Skyla they're reading to move away to Las Vegas. Skyla orders Naomi to pack her things and come, but she refuses. Naomi instinctively protects Owen by making sure that she is in between Skyla and him at all times. Skyla hits Naomi for not obeying her and even threatens to hurt Gram if she doesn't listen. Naomi tricks her mother and gets her to go into the other room while Naomi and Owen run through the avocado fields to where Gram and their neighbors are sewing. They protect the children and get her to leave, but Skyla swears that her and Clive will be back the next day to pick her up. Immediately, Gram goes to the court house to get temporary custody of the children in writing, and then before Owen and Naomi know it, they're driving down to Mexico for a little vacation! In Oaxaca, Mexico, there is an annual soap carving festival that a Leon has been entering for the past one hundred years, every year. Not only are they in Mexico to escape Skyla until the custody trial, but they are also there to try and find Naomi and Owen's father, Santiago. While in Mexico, Naomi realizes where she has come from and finally begins to find out who she is as a person. In the end, they find Santiago, who is beyond happy to be reunited with his children, and establish contact for future visits. Santiago can't drop his life and just move to the US, but now at least Naomi and Owen have an established, healthy relationship with their biological father. When it came time for the trial, the judge almost granted full custody to Skyla until she realized that Skyla only wanted Naomi and not Owen. Naomi got on the stand and found enough courage to speak out against her mother and tell the judge everything that had happened. As soon as the judge realized that Skyla had to intent on taking or raising Owen, she awarded Gram custody. By the end of the book, Naomi was back in the same place she started, but with a whole new outlook on life and herself!
H. Response: I have to start off by telling everyone how much I love this book. It is my absolute favorite book that I have read in a long time. Pam Munoz Ryan does an amazing job of capturing the innocence of children forced into adult-like situations. The author does such an amazing job that I showed real emotion while reading this book. I was on an airplane flying to Pennsylvania when I read the book, and I started to cry while I was reading the confrontation of Skyla and her children. I've known people like Skyla, so right from the beginning I had little sympathy with her. I think Skyla's character is a relatively dead-on, stereo-typical deadbeat mother, which makes the book that much easier to relate to for children. When I first set out to read this book, I had a slight prejudice because it just didn't seem like it would be that entertaining, but I stand completely corrected. The story itself was amazing and heartwarming, but from the first page to the last page I was glued to the book; I just felt like I was looking out through Naomi's eyes. Becoming Naomi Leon will absolutely be a book in my classroom, but I will also do everything I can to try and find a curriculum reason for the whole class to read it. This book has the opportunity to bring hope and love to so many children whose lives are in shambles or are experiencing the same things as Owen and Naomi. This type of literature can help children get through really difficult times; imagine how this book could help a quiet student, who never reaches out for help, going through this type of situation (just like Naomi).
I. Teaching Ideas: The first lesson plan that I found online for Becoming Naomi Leon was on Scholastic's website; the lesson even has a printable worksheet. The worksheet included with this lesson plan helps to match the same words in Spanish and English. The lesson plan itself starts off with general discussion questions such as why do you think the author chose to let Naomi tell the story instead of some other character or an outside person?; why did Naomi think that Mr. Marble was the best person at Buena Vista Elementary School?; Naomi thinks it is good and bad that Skyla came back into their lives. What did she mean by this?; and Naomi took Blanca to see Mr. Marble and then to the library to eat lunch. Naomi thought of it as a place where all the leftover kids came. Blanca thought it was some sort of club. What does Naomi mean by being a leftover kid?. The majority of the lesson is for the students to learn about Mexican culture and its language. Other lesson ideas include exploring Naomi's soap carving hobby, general character discussions, list creating, and creating an alter-ending. Another fun, creative, and interactive lesson plan would be to do a soap carving project. Off the top of my head, students could create a soap carving that they thought best captured the book, or maybe even a soap scene with multiple soap carvings.