I have a soft spot in my heart for Blaine Ray’s Patricia va a California. It’s not the newest TPRS novel out there. The story is simple and a little clunky at times, the resolution comes too quickly, and the ending reads like an after-school special. There are no pictures, and the teacher’s guides that are out there lean heavily on comprehension questions and true/false quizzes. Yet I teach it every year. I value the contrast between American and Guatemalan cultures as well as the book’s sweet message of acceptance. For some of my students, this book has been the first time they had to confront their own preconceived notions about Latinos. Here are some of the activities I do with my students.
I have my students do graphic organizers to represent Patricia’s house, family, and mealtimes, and we do lots and lots of PQA comparing and contrasting in this section. There’s not a lot of story or plot going on here, but we just go slowly here and use it as a jumping-off point to talk about my students’ lives.
I also have incorporated Martina Bex’s chicken bus resources in this section of the book, when it talks about the dad taking the bus to work because they don’t have a car. It’s a fun break from the novel!
I have my students listen and draw a story map to represent the action in chapter 4, since there’s a lot of movement as Patricia travels from Panajachel to Los Angeles. In chapter 5, they did a similar family tree and house drawing for the American house, and we focused our conversation on comparing Patricia’s Guatemalan house to her American one. I make a pretty big deal about all the technology and appliances mentioned in the text (COLD WATER? From the FRIDGE?!) to further emphasize the disparity between a rich nation and a poorer one. This might also be a good time to show all or part of the English-language documentary Living On One in class. Even though Patricia’s family doesn’t seem to have a lot compared to us, the reality is that they are comparatively well-off.
The antagonist Debbie Martin also gets introduced in chapter 6, and she is so cartoonishly mean that I can’t help but pronounce her name dramatically every time it comes up in the text.
I have my students draw storyboards of chapters 6 and 7, and we have lots of rich discussion and PQA comparing Patricia’s school, the California school, and our own school, as well as the role sports play in Latin American schools.
Chapter 8 is THE PIVOTAL scene of the book, the one where Debbie Martin turns it around. We made sure to dramatically re-enact the car-jack scene using the Readers Theatre technique, and we discussed whether or not we would be so forgiving of a girl like Debbie. We then do a 5-Finger Retell of the chapter: students trace their hands and write a “Who, What, Where, When, and How” in each finger space. In the palm, they write their own reaction.
The book winds down with Patricia and Debbie becoming friends and Debbie visiting Guatemala. By this point, my students are really comfortable with the text and I relax the graphic organizers and illustrations. We just read, discuss, and enjoy!
To review the whole book, I have my students match chapter titles (there are no official ones, so I made some up!) and then illustrate or write the key events from each chapter.
I also have developed a Socratic seminar for this novel, in which we circle up and discuss the cultural differences between Guatemala and the United States, the similarities we share, and whether or not it is important to visit another country. It’s a great way to finish up the novel and help students think about their own travel goals in the future!