In my Spanish 1 classes we just read Pobre Ana.  I teach in a public school in a small town. It is not a particularly high achieving school academically and it is filled with kids that just don’t read and who would say that they don’t like reading. There are such low expectations and so few demands for reading put on them that several of my students told me that the ONLY book they have read in ANY language this semester was Pobre Ana. (!?)  Getting them to read and to enjoy it is a challenge.

Pobre Ana is an older book and there are plenty of new ones coming out all of the time–I use those too.  I am aware the common complaints that the story is dated, too simple and does not contain enough culture, but I have found that if students understand the vocabulary and if I point out the interesting things in it as we go along, they like it.  For them to enjoy it, they must know most of the vocabulary and it must be compelling.  If it the interesting parts are not obvious, I have to point it out. I usually do that by parallel characters, acting out chapters and (my favorite) mocking the silly parts.

After reading the book one assignment was: Give your opinion about the book and tell how you could / could not relate to the main character.

The students could answer however they wanted (positively or negatively), but they had to justify their responses.  Most of the responses were positive. What I liked most about their responses (whether they liked the book or not) was that they focused on the content and not on the language. Here are some representative samples:

“I really did enjoy this book. It actually taught me some lessons. I learned that I need to be more grateful for how fortunate I am compared to people in other countries.  Like Anna, I have also traveled to Mexico before. I have noticed that in the U.S. we have it much easier than they do there.  Maybe I could start a donation program like Ana did to help some people out in Mexico.”  –Male student, high academic ability

“I am definitely not the type of person that enjoys reading, but this book made me realize all of the little things in life and how precious everything is.  For example, Ana complained about not having new clothes or a car, but in reality she was lucky enough to even be wearing clothes and her family has a car to get around .  In my life it is hard to get to places because my family only has two cars and I don”t have my own. Money is definitely hard to get these days. My parents don’t live together so it is hard getting money form both of them especially when I need new clothes.  I don’t always get what I want.”–Female student, average academic ability

“I liked the book Pobre Ana. It didn’t only help me understand Spanish, but also got me into perspective.  It helped me see that my life is excellent. I learned what Ana learned, but at school.”  –Male student, average academic

“I liked the book. I thought it was very interesting. I would read it again. I like how her life changed a lot when she went to Mexico. One way that I can relate to the story is that we both have un hermano y una hermana. I am also the same age as Ana, or I will be on my birthday.”–Male student, low academic

“It’s a very nice book.  Because reading this book, I can know more things about Mexico and I know that no family is perfect.  In the airport, don’t tell all your information to some person that you don’t know. If that person is not good, maybe you’ll have some dangerous thing. Don’t think that your family is horrible because you have a dad and mom, have a house to live in.  In other places in this world, too many children don’t have a family a warm house. and if you are angry with your family, they will be very sad because they love you.  When she goes back to California she is not happy. I know she doesn’t want to leave her new family and friends. But she will see her real family.  When I leave here to go back to China, I will be excited and sad.–Female student (Chinese exchange student that is taking her first Spanish class)

 They didn’t all like it:

“My opinion for this book is this book is not attached to the real life.  It seems so fake when Ana just grabs Jose Gomez and asks him can he help her.  In real life, we don’t just grab a random guy (especially males) and ask for help. Ana should ask the police in the airport or females that have a baby with them.  when Ana goes to the gym, she meets a girl names Patricia. She follows Patricia home when she just met her.  It is very dangerous even though the person you are following is a teenager. Maybe that girl is a drug dealer.  And Ana should not walk home with Ricardo.  It is very dangerous for a girl to walk home with a boy and they are both teenagers.  Overall, Ana is not that smart.”–Female student (another Chinese exchange student that is also taking her first Spanish class) 

 “In the story in some instances I could relate with Ana in the fact that life can really suck sometimes.  Her parents yell and my parents yell.  They are poor and I am poor. But you don’t see me leaving the country. In the end, I don’t relate to a whiny little girl.”  –Male student, low academic

“As the book went on, I started to lose interest in it. It became harder to understand. When you don’t understand what is going on, it becomes frustrating. but as far as I can understand in the book there are a few things that I can relate to. In the story, Ana’s mom yells at her a lot. My mom yells at me a lot too. I can see how that can be frustrating. Also, I have an older sister who happens to wear the same size as I do. She always takes my clothes and it frustrates me. I really understand where her frustration is coming from. But when i am away from my family, like Ana is in the story, I miss them and grow very grateful for what I do have.” –Female student, average academic, sporadic attendance

“I thought the book was boring.  Once I learned the words, it was just a little kids story. I, in no way, can relate to Ana.  In my life I have a loving family, enough money, and good friends. Ana is just a whine bag who wants the world to feel bad for her.”  –Male student, high academic

“Although some people might have found Pobre Ana an excellent resource, I found it to be the worst book I have ever read. I know that the words are supposed to be small and simple, but that should not stop the author from making the book interesting.  On no level did I ever connect with this story. I do not purchase or wear Calvin Klein clothing or accessories. Somehow, Ana did not realize what their clothing costs–$60 for a freaking shirt!  Also, I do not complain every time a sibling doesn’t help me.  Does Ana not understand that they are free people and not her slaves? And on a last note, I do not complain or whine about everything!  Ana’s character needs to grow up and smell the smog.  It’s not a perfect world, honey. Get over it.  In my opinion, this book should have never been released, sold or bought. Something this atrocious should not have bee released as an educational tool.”  –Female student, high academic