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.