Author's visit a treat for fourth-grade class
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 18, 2004

Betty Reid

Chato the bilingual cat and his feline friend Novio Boy had just received a letter from the president inviting them to the White House.

But they weren't sure how to behave.

"You know, homecat, if we're going to the White House, we got to learn to act right," Chato said. advertisement

The two cats are characters in books written by author Gary Soto who visited Cartwright School District's Spitalny Elementary School last week. He delivered a crash course in manners and read from his books about Chato, a bandanna-wearing cat that symbolizes the barrio lifestyle in East Los Angeles.

Soto's appearance was an attempt to boost reading and writing among youngsters, Spitalny Principal Patricia Lopez said.

Fourth-grader Miguel Lopez is not so sure Chato is a fictional character. He says he knows friends and relatives who act and talk just like Chato.

"When he uses Spanish, it says a lot and some of my friends talk like Chato and Mr. Soto when they talk," Miguel said. "I like the words he uses to write."

Soto asked students like Miguel to help Chato bone up on manners. Students figured the cats should use a lot of "please" words when they are invited to the White House for dinner. For example, instead of demanding "gimme a torta," replace it with "May I have a torta, please."

Students like Miguel also were treated to questions and answers with the poet and writer.

Spitalny enrolls more than 600 students of which 89 percent are Hispanic. Patricia Lopez said Soto's visit was a treat for her students.

"There is not much literature out there that honors their culture. Gary's books validate and honor their culture. It's OK to talk about tortillas in a poem and in a story. It's OK to talk about your nana's dress or a quinceañera, or something that's really personal to them," Lopez said. "He uses words like nana, or, you know, he uses words and phrases they are familiar with. So he is trying to teach them that they can pull out of their culture things that are meaningful to them."

Diana Roe, 11, worked a storycraft project during breaks to bring the characters to life after reading Chato's Kitchen and Chato and the Party Animals. Diana's class glued together a Novio Boy doll and wrote stories about family celebrations.

The books also serve as tool to learn the Spanish language, said Diana, a fifth-grade student.

"I think Soto says that other people speak other languages and not just English," Roe said. "I also think the stories have lessons. One story taught me to listen well, no matter how old I am."

Diana's teacher is Maria Henry, who works with Spitalny's Resource Class with Learning Disabled students.