Monday, March 31, 2014

Two novels set in the Spanish Civil War

To finish with resources about the Spanish Civil War, I'd like to introduce two novels aimed at young adult readers. Both books are love stories set at the time of the Spanish Civil War and we also follow the main characters' lives after their traumatic experience in the war.

Noche de Alacranes by Alfredo Gómez Cerdá.
Alfredo Gómez is one of the most prestigious and popular writer for young adults in Spain. He has published over 80 books which have been translated into many languages. I have introduced some of his books in previous posts and again I recommend the short novel Barro de Medellín to students in a bilingual or IB programs.

An old woman, Catalina Melgosa (aka Delgadina) is invited to talk to high school students in León, a city in Northern Spain. The retelling of her young life during  the Spanish Civil War makes her have a Noche de Alacranes, a night of insomnia. During this sleepless night she recalls her teenage love for Emilio and how she got involved in the war. She keeps memory tokens in a cookie tin. Looking at these tokens triggers flashbacks about momentous events in her life. 

As a teenager Delgadina lives in a village in León province and is in love with Emilio. Both come from different social backgrounds as Emilio belongs to one of the richest families in the area. When the war starts the region is soon taken by the Francoist troops and a period of repression starts. Many young men escape to the nearby mountains to continue the fight, among them Delgadina's brother. They are known by the name of 'maquis' fighters and Delgadina becomes their contact with the rest of the world, taking food and other supplies to them and being their mail.

When the group of 'maquis' fighters kidnap Emilio, a Franco supporter, Delgadina helps him to escape out of love. Soon after, all the 'maquis' fighters are killed by the Francoist police and Delgadina escapes to France where she gets married and has a family. Many years later, she returns to León as a widow and gets the invitation from the high school. The event is shown in the local newspaper where Emilio learns Delgadina has returned. Soon, they meet for a coffee 50 years later.

The novel shows the repression that the Francoist troops and police took on the citizens who supported the Republican government. It also portrays the life and fate of the 'maquis', the guerrilla groups who continued fighting Franco for many years even after the end of the Second World War. But the novel is also a beautiful love story between two young innocent people who were merely puppets engulfed by war and the social and political turmoil in Spain. The novel also reflects how fate influences our lives to an incredible extent. Finally, the novel serves to educate new generations and encourage them to take interest in 'Memoria Histórica', which has become a political policy in Spain.

More links:
Reading guide
Author´s website
Interview to the author
The author speaks about Noche de Alacranes 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Los Surcos del Azar, a graphic novel for the Spanish class

I have been showcasing resources about the Spanish Civil War. It is a very interesting topic to work with our students because they are familiar with the historical events around that time in Europe. It is important that they are aware how these events are interrelated and the fact that the Spanish Civil War cannot be understood outside the rise of totalitarianism in European countries.

I also like graphic novels for many reasons. They can help students to get used to reading in a second language and enjoy it. Another important reason is because authors tell us personal experiences which students can relate to easily. There has been a great production of graphic novels in Spanish speaking countries in the last years and we can use them in our Spanish classes.

Paco Roca is one of my favourite authors. I have introduced his award winning graphic novel Arrugas, which I highly recommend . Today I'd like to talk about his latest work, Los surcos del azar , which explores the lives of Republican soldiers after the Spanish Civil War and their involvement in the Second World War.  It is not the first time that Paco Roca uses the Spanish Civil or post-war as the  setting  one of his stories. In El Faro we read the story of Francisco, a young republican soldier. He became involved in the war by being conscripted like many other young Spaniards. After the war he flees and meets Telmo, an old lighthouse keeper who lives his life freely. Telmo will guide Francisco to a world of adventure and discovery until Francisco finally finds his place in the world away from his traumatic experience in the war.

Paco Roca was also the artist in El Angel de la Retirada published in French with a storyboard by French writer Serguei Dounovetz. More information in a previous entry.

Los Surcos del Azar was published in 2013. It is probably his most ambitious work up to now and  again depicts the lives and fates of the Republican soldiers who had to leave Spain after Franco´s victory in 1939. The title is taken from a poem by Spanish poet, Antonio Machado in his book Campos de Castilla (Proverbios y Cantares II):
¿Para qué llaman caminos
a los surcos del azar?...
Todo el que camina anda,
como Jesús, sobre el mar.

Antonio Machado had to leave Spain in 1939 entering France on foot accompanied by his ancient mother with the rest of refugees. This scene is portrayed in the novel as a token of the helplessness of the situation for the refugees. The poet and his mother died a month later in the small town of Collioure, which has become a place for pilgrimage.

In this article Paco Roca explains how he started the project after meeting Manuel Fernandez and Luis Royo in Paris in 2008 during the presentation of La Nueve, los españoles que liberaron Paris by Evelyn Mesquida. They were two of the few survivors of the company and Paco Roca found the story fascinating. Probably, we would have seen many films about their lives, had they been from a different country. 

The author started to research about these historical facts and found Miguel Campos, another member of La Nueve who disappeared mysteriously just after the liberation of Paris. The novel follows Miguel Campo´s life through his conversations with the author,  like a documentary and 70 years after everything happened. We learn that he is one of 1,800 lucky ones who could board the ship Stanbrook in Alicante port in 1939, where over 15,000 people where waiting for other ships which never came. Then we follow his steps in Oran, Algeria and how the French authorities put them in concentration camps to build the never completed Sahara railways.

With many other exiled Spanish he takes part in the Tunisia campaign against General Rommel and then the group of Spanish republicans joined Leclerc's army to form La Nueve company. The company is taken to England for training and after the D-Day they start their trip to Paris taking part in uncountable battles. When the French leader de Gaulle learns that a revolt has broken up in Paris against the Nazis, he asks the alleys to attack Paris. It is August 1944 and the Americans are not willing to enter the French capital out of fear of the reprisals on the civil population by the Nazis authorities. However, de Gaulle insists and orders Leclerc to enter Paris. La Nueve company, like in many other French cities before, is the one leading the attack reaching Paris city hall on August 24, 1944. The German garrison surrenders the day after (source Wikipedia). The bulk of the Alley troops parade in Paris on the 26th.

Most of the members in La Nueve company have been fighting since 1936, and some will still participate in the battle of Strasbourg and will eventually reach Hitler´s Eagle Nest. However, the main character Miguel decides to abandon the war to head back to Spain with his partner to fight Franco. When his partner dies in a car accident on the way to Spain he decides not to fight any more, settling in France and mourn his dead partner and also his lost country. 

Paco Roca convinced Miguel to talk about all these events 70 years later. He had kept silent for all this time and not even his closest friends knew anything of his struggle. He was a deserter after all! The graphic novel is presented in the form of a documentary. Paco Roca asks questions to Miguel and there are continuous flashbacks to the facts he is recalling. We also are present at the process of getting to know each other until Miguel trusts the author completely.

The real history of Miguel could be the plot for films or TV series however it was lost like the rest of the members in La Nueve. The graphic novel unveils the story of a group of people who lost a war and along with it their home and their country but who never gave up trying to liberate Europe. It is also the story of Miguel who also lost his family, his partner and was condemned to a life of silence. The story is told in a realistic way, like a documentary,  showing the injustice of wars and the cruelties committed by the contestants.

I highly recommend the graphic novel for an ADULT reader.

More information about Paco Roca's work in La guía del cómic.
Interview in RTVE.
Article in El Pais newspaper.
Paco Roca´s website
Post on La Nueve company
Conference by Evelyn Mesquida on Vimeo

Sunday, March 16, 2014

eduPLEmooc course Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje (PLE) para el desarrollo personal docente

I have just finished my work at the eduPLEmooc course Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje (PLE) para el desarrollo personal docente. It was a unique learning experience. It was a Massive Open Online Course so anyone interested in education with enough command of Spanish could have joined in. There was a large number of participants from many different countries and various education fields and this fact made the course even more interesting.

The main goals of the course were to give  participants an experience of interconnected learning that will allow them to:
  • build or redesign their PLE (personal learning environment)
  • reflect on issues such as digital identity and personal learning processes
  • contact education professionals through the numerous virtual communities created during the course. 
The course journey was exciting and very informative. I enjoyed being challenged learning how to use new tools to accomplish new tasks. Another plus was that we had to work with our peers in different projects and to share all our works through social media.  The chart below shows my personal experience during the course:

Going into the details of the chart:
  • One of the main goals of this course was to reflect on the new role of education in the 21st century.
  • New challenges arise after this process, mainly trying to integrate everything I learned in my classes and using media and ICT tools to enhance students' Spanish learning.
  • One of the projects I´d like to work on is the design of an option subject for the Spanish bilingual program where students learn to create their own PLE.
I highly recommend the course for teachers working in the Spanish bilingual programs. I assume the same course will be offered in the near future. To get updated information visit the website of INTEF.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Juegos Inocentes Juegos, a novel recently published for the Spanish class

One of the main goals for this blog is to showcase resources that can be used in Spanish bilingual or IB programs (not only novels, short stories or poems to work in class but also resources for independent and enjoyable reading in Spanish). Today I am going to talk about a short novel published in 2013 by Ricardo Gomez. Gomez visited Alberta in 2012 when I was in Spain so I was unable to attend  his school visits. However, it is an author I discovered some years ago and I have wanted to talk about in the blog for a long time.

Ricardo Gomez has written poems, books for adults and books of the so called "literatura infantil y juvenil", books, aimed at children and young adults. I know that numerous authors, including Gomez himself, disagree that such literary category exists. They believe that there are only good or not so good stories but the term can be useful to understand that we mean stories that young readers can find attractive. Ricardo Gomez is definitely a special case among writers because he portrays teenagers and their world in a very accurate and realistic way (not in vain he was a Math teacher in secondary schools in Spain until 2004). As he mentions on his website, he felt he was reborn after taking the decision of becoming a full time writer.

We can learn more about the author on his website. I particularly recommend to have a look at his conferences on mathematics issues that he has discussed in schools and universities. These are also  available online. The conferences deal with attractive topics like the relation between literature and maths or how to make maths more entertaining for students. There is also a section to raise awareness about the situation of the refugees in the Sahara desert. Of special interest is the Bubisher project which tries to support children´s education bringing them a mobile library to the refugee camps where they live.

There is also a reference to all of his books in his web, some for adults and some for children and teenagers, although the author says he wonders if there is a separation between both. I will talk in another post about some of the books which can be helpful for our bilingual programs: La Selva de los Números and Las Hijas de Tuga which tell us the story of the discovery of maths by Tuga, a very smart turtle. I will also speak about Ojo de Nube and Cuentos Crudos, which deal with issues which affect us all, and 3333 set in a not so distant technological future.


Juegos Inocentes Juegos was published in 2013 and won the XIII Alandar award for books for teenagers, given by Edelvives publisher. Sebastian, spelt without an accent as it is normally in Spanish, is seventeen and lives with his divorced mother. He goes to a high school, is not a good student and he keeps to himself at school. But Sebastian has a double life that makes him different from the rest of peers: he has been testing video games for a multinational company and getting a lot of money out of it.

We then learn about his monotonous life with his mother at home and at school but also all the problems his family went through. He doesn't have many friends and does not get along with teachers. It seems that his virtual life is more realistic and rewarding than his actual life. But the video games can hide something much more sinister. Sebastian is very good, cool and intuitive with the games. Little by little we learn that some of the prototypes that has been trying are drones (UAV, unmanned aerial vehicles) used to fight in wars. And soon, without Sebastian being aware, he will be participating in real battles killing real people in an unknown country far away. At the same time that this is happening Sebastian is becoming more sociable and meets Patricia, someone he is really attracted to. At the end we see all the damage caused to the small community far away by the drone attacks and how Sebastian was just part of a superpower's plan (readers slowly realize that the attacked location is Afghanistan).

It is not a book with a plot full of action, the rhythm is quite paused. We follow Sebastian´s story through the chapters, alternated with chapters where the life in the small community in Afghanistan is portrayed and the chapters in which military men are designing the new warfare. The book also brings up important topics like the fine line between reality and fiction, the power of the 'governments' over all of us, the growing difficulty of intimate personal communication, the growing pains teens experience, the lack of opportunities for the young generations in Europe and so on.

Another important reason why the book can be good reading for our students is the precise language used by the author which is very appropriate for second language learners. At the same time Ricardo Gómez knows the young people´s slang and he uses it in his books very accurately.

I highly recommend Juegos Inocentes Juegos for our students in a bilingual program though it is an equally interesting story for independent reading.