Recently I was looking for something to help my reading skills when I snagged ¡Así leemos! off my wife’s shelf of old Spanish textbooks. It’s a graduated Spanish reader separated into three sections: a short story, a short history of Mexico, and an adaptation of the medieval Spanish novella Lazarillo de Tormes. Each section gets progressively more difficult, in terms of grammar and vocabulary. The first section, which is the story of two high school students at the fictional Colegio Glenview, is split into six sections, each with four to six “chapters” (for lack of a better term). There are thirty chapters in total for section one, and I’m about 3/4 of the way through them.
The book couldn’t start off much easier; it is clearly aimed at someone who has only had a week or so of Spanish. The first sentences: “Enrique y María son amigos. Enrique es de España. Él es español.” The questions that follow the chapter are equally a breeze: “¿De qué nacionalidad es Enrique, español o estadounidense?” Er, let me see, I think he’s… But the text quickly moves forward into slightly more challenging work, though rarely departs from the present tense. Each chapter is then followed by a series of reading-comprehension questions, and every five or six chapters end in a review text and a crossword puzzle (crucigrama), which is a nice way to break up the reading.
Now while the book has given me some practice with basic reading skills and has contributed to my vocabulary a bit, I’m looking forward to moving on to the next two sections of the book because the first story can be dreadful at times. It follows Enrique (who’s a Spaniard, if you didn’t catch that before) and his friend María, a white-bred chick who is a star in the high school Spanish program. Their friendship, of course, blossoms into more. All the while, I roll my eyes and ask myself why I picked this thing up in the first place. Masochism? The stuff that goes down at this high school is truly unbelievable. First of all, Enrique is the captain of the football team. And I’m talking American football here. Is that really possible? Do Americans studying in the UK generally excel at cricket? Are French students in Texas rodeo stars? Why couldn’t the author of this let Colegio Glenview have a soccer team instead? Enrique as the captain of that team I could see.
The colegio also has a Spanish club, Los aventureros, which is made up of native Spanish speakers (who seem to be everywhere in this town) and advanced Spanish students like María. One of their meeting places is the local Mexican restaurant El Taco. Couldn’t they have spiced that name up a little bit? How about El Taco Loco or El Gran Taco or something. Anyway, the non-native-Spanish-speaking members of the club always take part in a poetry festival that the town is famous for. Each contestant memorizes a Spanish-language poem for recitation and presents it in front of a panel of judges. Each high school that competes has its own qualification round in this way. And then the best of the best compete for the city championship. To put it another way, the small, seemingly very WASPy town of Glenview has an annual Spanish poetry recitation festival that’s the bomb. Because you know, small town America just loves the Spanish language and Spanish speakers. Oh, and you’ll never guess who wins this year. I’ll give you a hint. Her name starts with “m” and she does a beautiful rendition of José de Espronceda‘s “La canción del pirata” (“Song of the Pirate”).
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, the book is clearly meant for high school students (maybe even younger?). And for all the sloggishness of the story, I am getting something out of it. But don’t high students deserve a little better? Well, here’s hoping that they get it in sections two and three of the book. I’ll report back later.