That's Not Fair

Emma Tenayuca's struggle for justice

Written by Carmen Tafolla & Sharyll Tenyuca; illustrated by Terry Ybanez

Grade level: Fifth grade

Notes: Bilingual families and dealing with unfairness

It is important for the students to know that they have a voice and can make a difference when they are still young. These changes can be the little things that they do, the kind acts, and standing up for the things that they as individuals believe in.

  1. The teacher will ask the students, " Can we name some other famous historical individuals who stood up for what they believed in?" (Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Galileo, and so many others.)
  2. Have the students close their eyes and think of a time when they thought something was not fair. Why was it not fair? What did you do?
  3. Have the students look at the front of the book. Ask them, "What do you think this book is about? Who is involved? How did you make these observations/predictions?
  4. The teacher will then say, " Ok class with these questions in mind, we are going to read about a young women named Emma Tenayuca. As we read I want you guys to participate in the story. (pass out the fair and not fair signs to each student.) As we read the story I want you to raise your signs, when asked, saying if the situation on the page is fair or not fair. " voices should remain at a level zero.
  5. Open the book to page one and ask the students how this book is set up is different than most of the books they read. (hopefully they say it has two languages in it.)- Introduce to them that this is a bilingual book.
  6. Explain what bilingual means: being able to speak two languages. In this case we have a book written in English that is translated into Spanish.
  7. Start to read the text. On page three point out the two vocabulary words of Shack and shelling. A shack is a roughly built hut or cabin like house, usually very small, one room for whole family. Shelling is removing the shells from something, in this case pecans. Read to page 8 then ask the students if it was fair that Emma's friend Maria was never taught to read. Have them hold up their signs. (answer on pg.9)
  8. Stop once again on page 15 and read through the second paragraph. Ask the students if it was fair what the farmer did to them. Have them hold up their signs. continue reading.
  9. Continue reading through page 33. Ask the students to raise their signs and show whether the bosses dropping the pecan sheller's lower than before- only 3 cents per hour of work (not even enough to feed their families) compared to the owners who only worked a few hours a day that they had everything in excess.
  10. Show the students that by Emma giving the poor hope and a voice she gave them something that was fair.
  11. After the book is finished read the short biography in the back of the book to the students.
  12. After reading the story I will ask the students to go to their desks and and take out a pen and a piece of paper.
  13. For the assessment I want the students to reflect on the moments in their lives when they thought something was fair or unfair. The students will then compare and contrast these memories to the story about Emma Tenayuca.
  14. Do a short review about comparing and contrasting- be sure to remind the students that when you are comparing you are looking for the similarities and while contrasting you are looking for the differences. Tell them to have at least two similarities and at least two differences. The paragraphs should be at least six to seven complete sentences.
  15. Thank the students for their time and attention and have them turn their essays into the reading drawer in the back of the classroom.

Awards for the book


Read Jeff Biggers on Carmen's selection as poet laureate and on the banning of her book Curandera in the [Huffington Post]

Tafolla's children's book, Fiesta Babies (Tricycle Press, 2011) was honored both as an ALA Notable Book and an Américas Award Commended Title, and it was named one of the "Best Books for Babies of 2011" by the Fred Rogers Corp.

In January, 2010, Tafolla became the first Latina to win the Charlotte Zolotow Award for Best Children's Picture Book, for What Can You DO with a Paleta? (Tricycle Press). It also received the Américas Award for children's literature (presented at the Library of Congress) and the Tomás Rivera Book Award for Mexican-American Children's books, and was selected for the Tejas Star Reading List.

(Wings Press, 2008. Illustrated by Terry Ybañez)
This is the first book ever published about the significant Latina civil rights leader from the 1930s, who at the tender age of 22, organized twelve thousand pecan shellers in a strike that was to become the first successful action in the Mexican American struggle for political and economic justice. Aimed at readers 6 and up, That’s Not Fair was the April 2008 national Las Comadres Book Selection, and was listed in Críticas Magazine’s Best Children’s Books of 2008. School Library Journal calls it “an important book celebrating the struggle for justice and civil rights.”

That's Not Fair
Carmen Tafolla - A Life in Letters Documentary


Bilingual: being able to speak two languages fluently

Shelling: to take the shell off of- this case taking shells off of pecans

Shack: a roughly built hut or cottage


Between the 1920s-1930s many Mexican-Americans came to the U.S. to flee the revolution that was occurring back home. Many of these individuals started working in San Antonio Texas in small closed rooms shelling pecans. The Mexican Americans were treated very poorly and received very little money for their long days. For a twelve hour day they would receive as little as 6 cents an hour. As the conditions got worse in 1938 when their income was cut in half- that was only 3 cents an hour! The Mexican American's needed their voices to be heard. That is where the story of Emma Tenayuca came into play. She showed them kindness and respect- sharing things like her food and sweaters with the poor and struggling. She helped them fight for fair rights and gave them a voice. She eventually had to leave San Antonio to find a job where she wasn't as well known. After college she came back to San Antonio as a reading teacher for migrant children. Emma died in 1999


Overall this lesson went well and it was fun to be able to work with the fifth graders. It was nerve racking, but the students behaved very well and answered questions that I asked throughout the lesson. Though the lesson went pretty well, there are a few things that I know I can do better next time during the lesson or other lessons. During the lesson, I had the students raise the signs that I gave them saying if the situation was fair or not fair throughout the book. As would most children, the fifth graders were messing around with the paper in the beginning. I should have asked them to place the signs under their right knee until they were asked to pick it up; this should have been said as soon as I handed out the signs. Next, One of the students had asked about who the president was at the time that Emma was fighting for fairness in the book. Though I had done my research I didn't even think to look up that it was President Roosevelt at the time. So if I ever use this book again I can add that into the history of the lesson. Finally, at the end of the lesson the students were asked to walk quietly to their desks and write a 6 to 7 sentence paragraph about a time in which they felt something was not fair and what they did in that situation. Then they would take their story and compare and contrast what they did in comparison to what Emma did when she thought something was not fair. I could improve this by clearly writing what was expected in the paragraph on the board for the students to reflect on- providing an essential question. With this experience I feel like I learned a lot from the help of my teacher and the students and look forward to teaching future lessons and be able to learn as much as I can to improve my teaching.
Big image

Emma Tenayuca

The picture above is a photo of Emma Tenayuca in her earlier years. Similar photos can be found in the back of the book, "That's Not Fair."