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Between Us and Abuela

When I hear the word “tone,” music bars swell inside my mind. But of course tone doesn’t just apply to music, books have tones, too. However, I don’t think we discuss the tone of books very often, even as adults. While I’m sure I talked about a book’s tone during my Masters of Fine Arts program, I’m equally sure that I’ve never said to a friend even in a book club, “I fell in love with the tone of such and such book.”

This week my class had the amazing opportunity to Zoom with author Erin Dealey and talk about her book Deck the Walls which is a parody of the song “Deck the Halls.” When Erin asked my class about the tone of Deck the Walls, she may as well have asked my students what’s 216 to the tenth power. She went on to explain her book has a humorous tone because her purpose had been to entertain readers.

Ahhh, the author’s purpose. Honestly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the author’s purpose, and it’s something I talk about throughout the year with my students. But, I don’t think I’ve ever really connected tone with author’s purpose which as I write this seems kind of like a “duh,” moment. It’s the truth though. 

The next day I made a t-chart with two titles, Deck the Walls and Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins. We revisited the discussion about Deck the Walls having a humorous tone and wrote bullet points that supported that stance.

Then, I explained that I was going to read Between Us and Abuela, and that while I read I wanted students to think about the author’s tone and purpose. For all but one of my seventeen students, who has read Ernesto Cisneros’s fabulous Efrén Divided, the fact that there is a border fence between the United States and Mexico shocked them. They railed about the injustice of the fence, empathized with the characters who couldn’t touch their abuela, and asked all sorts of questions about why people couldn’t just swim around or fly over the fence.

Next, we discussed the tone of Between Us and Abuela and examined Mitali Perkins’ purpose in writing a picture book that spotlights La Posada Sin Fronteras, the Inn Without Borders celebration that starts December 16th. And yes, I absolutely love the fact that this post is publishing on the first day of the holiday which continues till December 24th. Anyway, here is what my students had to say about the tone of Between Us and Abuela:

Our discussion ended when our administrative assistant announced on the loudspeaker that dismissal would begin in two minutes. All my students stood up and one said, “When I’m president, I’m tearing down that fence.” I know who I will vote for: Julia for president!

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