Author: Ryan, Pam Munoz
Publisher: Scholastic, 2004
Genre: Novel, multi-cultural
Age Range: 4th grade and up
Awards: ALA Notable Children's Book, ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book, 2004 Parent's Choice Silver Honor Award
Summary: I absolutely loved this book! Naomi Leon is a young girl that comes from a torn household. Her and brother, Owen, live happily with their gret-grandmother who has raised them for seven years. One day, their mother Terri Lynn (aka Skyla) comes back home. She has nothing to do with Owen and only wants Naomi. Owen has some issues with his legs and she wants nothing to do with a crippled. She doesn't care that he is as smart as everyone else. Owen has a weird obsession with transparent tape having to be on his shirt at all times (it's a comfort thing, I love it!) Naomi has the unique talent of carving soap (little does she know how much that will come in handy.) After almost being kidnapped by their mother, Gram takes the two kids, and friends, in Baby Beluga (their camper/home) to Mexico. Here, Naomi has the chance to meet her father, Santiago, who loves and adores both her and Owen very much. After going back to the States, the judge rules that Gram will continue to keep custody of the children. The father will take over once Gram dies, and Skyla can have scheduled visitations. By the end of the book, Naomi has become a lion! She discovers who she really is, understands her heritage, and appreciates the people in her life more than she could ever imagine.
Response: What an inspiring book! Never in my life have I read such a revealing book. For young readers, this book really delves into serious issues; child abuse, neglect, seperation, diversity, etc. Surprisingly, this book connected a lot to my own life. My real father left my mother when I was just an infant. I have never met him, but have always wondered about him (just like Naomi.) Fortunately, Santiago wanted to keep in touch and be a father. I am not sure if I would be so lucky. I guess that is one of the things that is holding me back. My step-father, who adopted me, has kind of become "Gram" for me and my mom. I never think twice about him being my Dad....after all, he raised me. However, I still have questions about my real, blood father. I think anyone would.
Anyway, this book even helped me deal with some issues. I really like how Ryan introduced these topics. She did not ignore that her mother slapped her and told Naomi that "there is more where that came from." She did not ignore that there was a six pack in the back of the car. I really like how Ryan put these topics in terms that children could understand, such as "smelled like gardenia and Gram's rum cake - but more like Gram's rum cake."So many children would be able to connect with this book. Despite the fact that it is culturally diverse, many students come from broken homes and have surprisingly experienced topics that appeared in this book.
My favorite part of the whole book was the last chapter. I really like how Ryan allowed Naomi to sum it all up for the reader. The language was so poetic and beautiful. I really think that Ryan created a story that can be quoted and remembered for years.
Teaching Ideas: This would be such a great book to teach these controversial topics. Of course, teachers should approach it the appropriate way.
Another fun idea to do with this book is have students research their names. I love how throughout this entire book, Naomi discovers different parts to her name - and how she realizes how special it is.
"Becoming Naomi Leon" would be a great book to start the school year with. Have students research their names, and then throughout the year keep a journal of different things they find interesting in lists (like Naomi.) Encourage your students to come back to these time to time. This would be an excellent writing/ideas resource.