My Spanish I students have just finished reading their second independent novel (See the reflections from their first novel here: Once again, they chose a novel they wanted to read. The only constraints were that it be interesting and comprehensible to them. I have to repeat that idea a lot. Students have done plenty of regular self-selected independent reading in class between the first novel reading assignment in November and this one, so they are beginning to get the hang of it, despite the fact that our national school system is attempting to beat the notion of reading for pleasure out of them—the new school reading paradigm is harsh and unending textual analysis—that is apparently the only reason anyone would read!—nothing so soft as reading because students actually enjoy it.

To counteract the reading-sucks-so-why-would-anyone-do-it juggernaut that has been imprinted in their minds, I regularly checked with students to be sure they really liked something about the novel they had chosen, be it genre, setting, characters, plot, or whatever (the “interesting” component) and that they could understand much of it without too much trouble (the “comprehensible” component). Here is a free poster on how to choose reading materials that explains the interesting and comprehensible idea in five ways using kid-friendly language: Most of the students were able to find a novel that met both of these criteria.  This time the focus for reading was on character change, from Light Reading Book Report #1 (

I gave them three weeks to read the novels. Most were able to finish in class within the scheduled 15-20 minutes twice a week. A few checked out books to take home overnight. The objective with the Light Reading Book Report is to give students a focus while they read and to allow them to talk about the book meaningfully and briefly when they are done reading. It also slightly raises their level of concern. The reports are brief so that more time would not be taken from additional reading (for more on this see Beniko Mason’s article on extensive reading: When students finished reading their novels, they could write their report and then pick whatever else they wanted to read in the TL while their classmates finished reading. I am convinced that students actually did read these books and understood them because they did most of the reading in class in front of me.

I am proud of my students for reading even a low level novel on their own in Spanish I. I used to teach some of these novels to the whole class. This was more like “academic reading” because I helped them all along the way. Since we have been exposing students to more and more independent reading, they are now reading these novels and even harder ones all on their own. This allows for real differentiation: students can choose the level and what is interesting to them. The point is that they like it and read it, and they seem to be getting that idea.

Here are some sample student reports from the novels they selected and read in class. The assignment was to describe how a character changed in the course of the novel. I am sharing these because I want to show that level I students can read novels independently, understand them and enjoy them.


Novel: Tumba by Mira Canion

Student commentary: I had read this novel previously in class, but I decided to read it again for this assignment because I thought that I did not understand all of it the first time. In this book the antagonist, Sergio, changes drastically through the course of the story. In the beginning he is described as being the average jerk: “es un chico cruel, agresivo, y conflictivo” (p. 15). He remains cruel and selfish for the rest of the story until the end. At the end of the story Sergio goes to a cave to get the treasure first and scare off the others, but he hits his head on a stalactite as he is running trying to escape. He falls and breaks his leg. Alex rescues him and takes him to the hospital. Soon after Sergio and Alex become practically best friends. His character changes dramatically and instantaneously. They saved him and he suddenly became a different person. I think the moral of this story is that facing our fears is rewarding.

Here is another student reaction to the same novel.

Novel: Tumba by Mira Canion

Student commentary: Tumba is a pretty good story that is a little more challenging than some books I have read so far this year, but still really easy for me to read.  At the beginning of the story Alex does not like Día de los Muertos, but towards the end of the story he ends up not minding it.  Also, Alex doesn’t like this kid Sergio but at the end Alex learns that Sergio has changed and actually is a really nice kid. Tumba is about four kids: Alex, David, Sergio and Nora. These kids all go on a quest to find Alex’s grandfather’s treasure that he had hidden many years ago. While on the journey, Sergio ends up breaking his leg and the group has to come together to help him. After all of this Alex realizes that Sergio likes his sister Nora and that Sergio isn’t such a bad guy, he was just a little jealous.


Novel: Vampirata by Mira Canion

Student commentary: Sarah begins the story as being disrespected and feared by her community. The kids of their community taunt and tease her, so she isn’t proud of how she looks. Sarah is teased about her pale skin, large teeth, and midnight walks. Finally, Sarah is chased out of her town, Newport. Sarah becomes a pirate and is respected for looking like a vampire. Sarah begins to be more comfortable and proud of herself, but still wants to use the emerald to change herself. At the end, Sarah is worshipped for her appearance, accepts her appearance, and is able to block out the cruel comments of her past.

I think the author wants us to get that you should be proud of who you are and not listen to others’ mean opinions.


Novel: Isabela captura un congo by Karen Rowan

Student commentary: In the beginning of the story, Isabela desperately wants a pet monkey. She’d do anything to get one, even if it meant that she had to take it away from its family. When she and her friend, Daniel, find a group of monkeys, they try to capture one. In their attempt to do so, a baby monkey accidentally grabs an electric cable. This event caused Isabela to rethink the idea of taking a monkey out of the wild. When they took the monkey to the veterinarian, they found out that monkeys touching wires and being shocked severely was a common problem. They wanted to help them with their problem so that no monkey would ever be hurt again. With the help of their classmates, they built ladders connecting the trees in the forest so that the monkeys wouldn’t try to grab a wire while moving amongst the trees.  Isabela goes from wanting to take a monkey form its home to keep it as a pet to wanting to make sure it is safe living where it has lived its entire life. Because of this, I feel like Isabela got more mature and starred to respect nature more.


Novel: Piratas by Mira Canion

Student commentary: In the novel the character Raquel changes the most. Raquel starts off in the beginning of the novel wanting to go with Antonio to the secret island, but later on when Antonio is leaving Cuba, one of his crew members tells him that Raquel wants to stay. This makes him confused and angry, so he leaves without talking to her. In reality, Raquel did not want to stay, and is confused and sad because she does not understand why her boyfriend abandoned her. Later, when she meets up with the pirate Henry, she decides to go with him and be a pirate herself, so she can confront Antonio. Then Raquel finds out that Antonio has another girlfriend in Spain. This makes Raquel angry and she changes her minds about wanting to go with Antonio, and she decides to stay a pirate with Henry, even though she was just using him at first.

I think the author wants us to get that we don’t need a lot of stuff to be content or enjoy ourselves.


Novel: Patricia va a California by Blaine Ray

Student commentary: I chose to write about Debbie Martin. When Patricia first arrives in California and meets Debbie, she sees her as a cruel, stuck-up teenager. Many people also probably see her like that. When Patricia first meets Debbie on page 21, Debbie asks her why she is in America and says that they don’t need any more Mexicans. Of course this makes Patricia very upset. And later in Blaine ray’s novella, Debbie won’t even eat at the same restaurant as Patricia. She literally goes to the restaurant, sees Patricia, and walks out. But then when Debbie is about to get robbed by a man with a gun and Patricia comes and saves the day, Debbie sees her differently. She realizes how cruel she was to her and that Patricia really is a nice person and not just some un-wanted “Mexican” girl. Debbie even invites her to a party at her house and they become great friends. Debbie even visits Patricia in Guatemala over summer break.

Here is another report on the same book by a different student, but written at a deeper and more thoughtful level:


Novel: Patricia va a California by Blaine Ray

Student commentary: The biggest character change in the novel wasn’t the main character, it was actually more of a small character and her name was Debbie martin. In the beginning of the story, Debbie wasn’t really a nice girl at all. In fact, the first time that Patricia spoke to her Debbie was really mean, saying that she doesn’t like any Mexicans. This wasn’t just being mean to Patricia, but to everyone in an entire race. Then a big event causes Debbie to change.

Debbie was out one day and then she was suddenly attacked. While in her car, a robber entered and held her at gun point. Guess who was there to help her: Patricia. Even though Patricia saw who it was she still helped. She yelled to the man that she had a telephone and she would call the police. Surprisingly, this quickly worked and the robber ran away in fear.

When Debbie saw how courageous and kind Patricia was, even though she’d been mean to her, she was amazed and grateful. She was so happy that she began to cry and hug Patricia, saying thank you so much for what she’d done for her. She even invited Patricia and her sisters to a party at her house. Debbie had changed tremendously fast. Now she accepted Patricia and even called her a great friend of hers. At the end, Debbie even visited Guatemala and appreciated the culture of the people who, at the beginning, she said she didn’t like at all. Debbie’s change was very drastic because she became a nicer, more accepting person.

I think the author wants us to accept everyone, regardless of race or money. Though Patricia didn’t have money like Debbie, she was still happy.


A lot of students chose the novel Patrica va a California for this project. I suppose it was because it is partially set in Guatemala and I have been talking about my adventures there lately. One twist that this throws into my plans for the Spanish 1’s is that I usually teach this novel as an “Academic Reading” novel (the whole class reading the same book) in March. I have taught it that in the past because many students have had a hard time reading it on their own. But this year many students are able to read at this level independently. I attribute that change to the increased emphasis on self-selected reading this year.


Novel: Pobre Ana bailó tango by Blaine Ray

Student commentary: In the beginning of the story, Ana thinks that she dances well because of her magical tango shoes. She thinks they give her some dancing power that makes her dance like a professional, but when the shoes get stolen, she realizes that she has to dance without them.  She dances as well as before and she finds out that she is a good dancer. she realizes she is a good dancer and it’s not the shoes.


This novel was a high reading level for Spanish I independent reading—this book is written in the past tense and follows El viaje de su vida as far as reading level, according to the author. The student seems to have understood the story and how Ana grows, even if his report is a bit short.

Here is another review of the same novel by another Spanish I student that read it:


Novel: Pobre Ana bailó tango by Blaine Ray

Student commentary: In Pobre ana bailó tango Ana learns all about the culture of Argentina: what they eat, how they dress, what they do for fun, how they cook and their language. The people in Argentina spoke Spanish; however there were little details that were not the same as the Spanish she already knew. Ana also learned how to dance the tango. Throughout the story Ana learned not to be as stubborn. it seemed As though she was dependent on her dance shoes. When they got stolen, she felt as though she couldn’t dance anymore. Ana realized she can be without them. Also, when she accused someone of stealing her shoes, Ana learned to trust people and realize when they tell truth.


Novel: Berto y sus buenas ideas by Magaly Rodriguez

Student commentary: A character in this book that changes is Berto. Berto changes from the beginning of the book to the end because the way he feels about school changes. In the beginning Berto thinks school is boring, horrible and terrible. However, at the end of the book he realizes school is very important and thinks it’s fantastic. The change in Berto happens because he tries to come up with these great ideas or jobs he can do now and in the future. So he won’t have to go to school anymore. but all of his ideas backfire and Berto realizes that he needs to go to school in order to accomplish any of his ideas, some of his ideas were to be a soccer player or an artist, but he is then convinced that to do those things school is important by a famous soccer player and an artist that he talks to.


Novel: Carl no quiere ir a México, by Karen Rowan

Student commentary: In the beginning of the story, Carl likes where he lives and all of the people and things there. So it makes him feel comfortable and happy there. He also likes to visit his grandparents which live in the same city as Carl. It’s Manitou Springs, Colorado. His emotions and thoughts change dramatically when Carl’s mom, Janet, tells him there’s an opportunity to live in Mexico for a year. But Carl cannot speak Spanish. He has no idea what it is going to be like in Mexico because he has not been there. His mom and dad talk about it a lot and say it’s a great opportunity to go and experience new things, but Carl refuses and cries to try and get his mom to change her mind about Mexico. He thinks that everything there is ugly. He doesn’t like the things there such as the buses and all the other outdoor things. This also includes the weather. But no matter what it is, Carl doesn’t like it for some reason, even if it were the most beautiful place in the world. Throughout the whole story Carl is still in the “I don’t like it here” phase. But as soon as he starts to actually go out and explore Mexico he realizes that it’s not all that bad as he thought. He meets some new friends along the way also. Their names are Enrique, Beto, Mana and Brandon. Once he realizes that he actually like there in Mexico, his emotions and feelings change again. At first he didn’t; want to leave Manitou Springs, because he would have left everything behind, but now that he has friends and more experience in Mexico, he doesn’t want to go back to Manitou Springs. He wants to stay in Mexico because he’s happy again, not mad our upset about living there for a whole year.