Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Classroom Connections with David Bowles


They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems

David Bowles, Author

Cinco Puntos Press (November 27, 2018)
ISBN: 978-1947627062

For ages 9 and up

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Twelve-year-old Güero is Mexican American, at home with Spanish or English and on both sides of the river. He’s starting 7th grade with a woke English teacher who knows how to make poetry cool. 

In Spanish, “Güero” is a nickname for guys with pale skin, Latino or Anglo. But make no mistake: our red-headed, freckled hero is puro mexicano, like Canelo Álvarez, the Mexican boxer. Güero is also a nerd—reader, gamer, musician—who runs with a squad of misfits like him, Los Bobbys. Sure, they get in trouble like anybody else, and like other middle-school boys, they discover girls. Watch out for Joanna! She’s tough as nails. 

But trusting in his family’s traditions, his trusty accordion and his bookworm squad, he faces seventh grade with book smarts and a big heart. Life is tough for a border kid, but Güero has figured out how to cope. 

He writes poetry.


© 2018 David Bowles, from They Call Me Güero:
A Border Kid's Poems (Cinco Puntos Press)


Mexican American author David Bowles has written fourteen books, including the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Smoking Mirror and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico (one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best YA Books of 2018). His most recent publication, They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems, has received multiple accolades such as the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Claudia Lewis Award for Excellence in Poetry, the Pura Belpré Author Honor, and the Walter​ ​Dean​ ​Myers​ Honor ​Award​ ​for​ ​Outstanding​ ​Children’s​ ​Literature. His work has also appeared in a wide range of venues, among them Journal of Children's Literature, Translation Review, Rattle, and Huizache. In 2017, David was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in recognition of his literary accomplishments.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

There are so many great things about poetry that make it perfect for young people. It’s a bridge between music and literature, and the playful way in which it shapes language lets kids see how beautiful, melodic, fun and impactful words can be. It is dense, condensed when compared to prose, occupying less space but saying more. As a result, it lends itself to being re-read again and again (something students should learn to do) and rewards close analysis. It can be read out loud, chorally, helping struggling readers and ELLs without shaming them.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

Well, nearly all upper elementary and middle-school English standards require teachers to cover the genre of poetry. Finding work that centers kids, that is culturally diverse, is important. They Call Me Güero is a great fit. Furthermore, the book explores Mexican American identity on the border in a way that shatters stereotypes. It would work well in any unit about the wide variety of American experiences, a perfect tool for showing that the border isn’t a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of bad people, but a rich, beautiful region where people live normally, healthy lives.

Can you suggest a specific classroom exercise related to your book?

Using “They Call Me Güero” as a template, teachers could have students write their own poems about their nicknames, beginning with the prompt “They call me ____.” The poem would explore why the nickname was given and what it says about the student and the community they come from.

What is a simple, practical tip for teachers when it comes to incorporating poetry in the classroom?

Be sure to tap into students’ prior knowledge, setting them up for success by selecting poems that will resonate with them on that text-to-self level.

Can you recount a specific instance of when poetry impacted a student or group of students in a positive way?

Poetry really impacted me personally. As an 8th grader, I had a teacher named Bill Hetrick who pulled the lid off of poetry for me, revealing how incredibly powerful it was as a lens for understanding the world and my place in it. Later, when my dad abandoned our family thousands of miles from our hometown, it was poetry that helped me to survive the darkness: reading it, writing it.

Later, as a middle-school teacher, I had a group of boys who just didn’t respond well to the literature we were reading. So I brought in “Oranges” by Gary Soto, a poem in which they could see themselves reflected, adjacent to their own cultural experience as Mexican American kids. It was hugely successful. They identified with the boy in the poem. I was able to get them to try writing about their own lives, to find the “orange” in their own personal stories.


Twitter and Instagram: @DavidOBowles

Look for The Chupacabras of the Río Grande: Unicorn Rescue Society Book 4 (co-written with Adam Gidwitz), published this month from Penguin.

Many thanks to David for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and for offering a copy of They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems to one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Guero Giveaway" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 2nd, so be sure to check back to see if you've won!

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Check out the other Classroom Connections posts and giveaways on offer this month by clicking the names below!

Digital art © 2018 by Miranda Barnes,
based on a line from "Ghazal" by Tracy K. Smith.


The best way to keep up with the Classroom Connections series is by subscribing to Today's Little Ditty via email, which you can do in the sidebar. I will also be announcing the posts on social media. Like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter (also in the sidebar) to stay informed that way. Catch up with Classroom Connections posts you may have missed by clicking on the "It's time to INSPIRE" icon in the sidebar, or by visiting my "Poetry in the Classroom" board on Pinterest.


  1. I cannot believe I haven't read this book yet! Argh! It's on my TBR list and I just haven't gotten to it. I love the whole origin of the book starting with David's experience in 8th grade and the smashing of expectations. As a Librarian of teens from many parts of the globe I find it interesting how many teens don't want to connect with literature that "should" connect with's introduced in a/the way that David suggests where there is an opportunity to find oneself in the poem. I adore chances to help young people find themselves in poetry. Poetry really does work so well for so many aspects of reading, writing and learning. Thank you so very much for writing this book! I'm delighted that the story found its way to being told.I promise I will have it read by end of summer and into teen hands by next school year.

  2. THANK YOU for all the posts you did this month. Much appreciated.

  3. THE "Unknown" is Lee Bennett Hopkins.

  4. Late to comment, but wanted to say how much I loved this new poetry book, They Call Me Guero, only sad that I no longer have a class with which to share it. And, when I was teaching, I used 'Oranges' and other Gary Soto poems with my students, who loved them. Thanks, Michelle & David!

  5. This looks like a wonderful book for the classroom. Thanks for the post.

  6. This looks and sounds AWESOME! Thank you so much for sharing some of your work with us. I teach Spanish and English, and this would be perfect to use in class. Also, thank you for the idea to use this poem as a starting point in creating their own poems. I'm really excited to check out more of your work! Thanks, again!! :-)
    Twitter: @tarafarah7