Bring Hispanic American author Pam Muñoz Ryan into your classroom with discussion guides, lesson plans, and author interviews.
Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has a lot of problems to deal with in her young life — including the “funniest last name in the universe.” She and her brother Owen have lived with their great grandmother, Gram, at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in California for the last seven years. Naomi worries a lot and has difficulty speaking up. When the mother who abandoned her suddenly shows up at Gram’s trailer, Naomi is caught up in a whirlwind of challenges and changes.
Gram, Naomi, and Owen set off on a journey to Mexico to discover the children’s long-lost father, Santiago Leon. Finding her father and participating in a radish-carving festival help Naomi understand her Leon heritage and develop her own strength and determination.
By the end of the book, Naomi faces a test that could result in the end of her happy existence with Gram and Owen. She finds the courage to become who she is meant to be — Naomi León, or Naomi the lioness.
About the Author
Pam Muñoz Ryan was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. Her Mexican grandmother lived around the corner, and her Oklahoman grandmother lived in the nearby town of Lamont. “When I was with one, I often ate enchiladas, rice, and beans. When I was with the other, I ate black-eyed peas, fried okra, and peach cobblers.” During her childhood, she spent many days riding her bike to a small branch library to fill her bike basket with books.
After college, Pam became a bilingual teacher and then left her job in education to raise her own children. Eventually, she went back to school for her master’s degree. That’s when a professor encouraged her to write. More than twenty-five books later, Pam Muñoz Ryan is the award-winning author of the novels Esperanza Rising, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind, and The Dreamer, as well as numerous picture books. She lives with her husband in north San Diego County near the Pacific Ocean, where she writes full time. Her four grown children frequently come and go. Two dogs, Buddy and Sammie, keep her company while she works. Visit Pam Muñoz Ryan’s website.
Teaching the Book
Can Naomi Soledad León Outlaw ever live up to her Mexican surname León — the lion? This award-winning novel about a young girl caught in the middle of family conflicts provides an opportunity to teach how a character changes and grows as she learns lessons about life and herself. Students will engage in activities including mapping a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, learning Spanish and English cognates, and exploring the meaning of their own names.
Theme Focus: Identity
Comprehension Focus: Analyze Character
Language Focus: Spanish and English Words
Get Ready to Read
What’s in a Name?
Introduce students to the book’s main character Naomi Soledad León Outlaw. Write the name on the whiteboard or on chart paper. Ask students if they know the meaning or background of the individual parts of her name. (Naomi comes from Hebrew and means pleasant or beautiful; Soledad means solitude or aloneness in Spanish; León is a Spanish name meaning lion; Outlaw is an English word that means outside the law.) Ask students what parts of her name Naomi probably likes or doesn’t like.
Ask students what they know about their own last names — either the meaning or the country the name is from. Suggest that they learn more by asking their parents about their first and last names. Have them ask how their first name was chosen. Prompt them to think about names they wish they had or names that would describe what they are really like.
Preview and Predict
Have students spend time looking at the illustration on the cover of the book. Prompt them with these questions: Where might Naomi live? Why might there be a small lion in the picture? What kind of person do you think Naomi is? Discuss students’ answers to the questions and encourage other predictions they might have about the book.
Spanish and English Words
Tell students that Naomi makes many lists in her notebook, including “splendid” and “superb” new words that she learns. The list below contains half English and half Spanish words that Naomi records. Ask students to look for clues in the text to figure out the word meanings or to check dictionary definitions. Encourage students to keep a list of new words they learn from the book and give their list a title such as Splendid or Superb.
Use the Becoming Naomi León Vocabulary Cards printable and distribute copies to students. Ask them to write down the definitions for the words as they read them in the book.
- flourish (p. 10)
- sanctuary (p. 10)
- tropical (p. 142)
- mercado (p. 154)
- quesillo (p. 156)
- maravilloso (p. 190)
- fantastico (p. 217)
- ecstatic (p. 241)
Words to Know
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards to answer the following questions. Ask students what English words sound similar to the Spanish words.
- Where do you go to find sanctuary from the world?
- What is your favorite dish with quesillo?
- What place has a tropical climate?
- What person or thing would you describe as maravilloso?
- What experience made you feel ecstatic?
Ask students to share words from the lists they made as they read. Using their words, ask several more questions that require a specific understanding of a word’s meaning.
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read aloud the first chapter of the book, asking students to follow along. Then ask them these questions: What do you know so far about Naomi? What do you know about Owen and Gram? Why do the titles of the chapters have the names they do? Clarify any questions students have before they begin reading the book.
Assign students to read Becoming Naomi León independently. Remind them to keep the Big Question in mind as they read.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they have finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students write it in their reading journals. What do you think the title of the book means?
Becoming Naomi León presents an excellent opportunity to teach students to analyze how a character changes as a result of events in her life. Remind students that a reader can get to know a character by watching how the character speaks, thinks, and acts. These pieces of evidence are clues to the character’s traits or personality.
Use the graphic organizer on the Becoming Naomi León Analyzing Character printable to model for students how to use evidence to analyze character traits. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
We’re going to think about Naomi and her character traits and how she changed during the story. A trait is a quality or habit that a person has. The first trait listed for Naomi at the beginning of the book is “a worrier.” Is that true about Naomi? I’ll see if I can find evidence of that in the text. Okay, I see on page 9 that she says she is good at worrying. In fact, she keeps a list of “Regular and Everyday Worries.” I’ll write that in the second column as evidence of “a worrier.”
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer for the traits listed for Naomi and the beginning and end of the book. Ask them to supply two of the traits themselves. (Answers will vary because there are many examples in both the text and illustrations.)
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
By the end of the book, Naomi feels like Naomi the Lion. Many things happen to make her feel that way. What do you think the most important one is? (Sample answers: She found out that her father really loved her. She stood up to her mother in the courtroom.)
2. Analyze Character
Even though he has physical challenges, Naomi’s brother Owen has a very positive outlook on life. Why do you think he has this personality? How do you know that he still feels emotional pain about his life? (Sample answers: He may have inherited his positive outlook from Gram; he may need a positive outlook just to carry on; he wears tape over his chest which shows that he still has a lot of fears.)
3. Spanish and English Words
What words on Naomi’s list are synonyms of splendid and superb? What other words do you know that have similar meanings? (Answer: maravilloso and fantastico; super, fabulous, wonderful, magnificent, excellent.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
Do you feel that you have a good name — a name that explains who you really are?
2. Text to World
Do you think the judge made the right decision about who would have custody of Naomi? Why or why not?
3. Text to Text
What other character have you read about in a book or seen in a movie who has problems with his or her family, as Namoi León does. Describe the character and compare and contrast him or her with Naomi.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is no one right answer. What do you think the title of the book means?
My Name Means . . .
Ask students to find out the meaning of their name — including first, middle, and last names. Tell them that there are several ways to do this. First, they can research the meaning of their names online. Second, they can ask their family members why they were given their first and middle names and what the country of origin is of their last names [where their ancestors came from]. Third, they can explain why they have certain nicknames and why. Make copies of the Becoming Naomi León Big Activity printable and distribute to students. Read the directions and answer any questions to clarify the activity.
Content Area Connections
Map the Journey
Naomi, Owen, and Gram travel in their trailer to Mexico to find Naomi’s father. The town of Lemon Tree where they live is based on Lemon Grove, California. They travel to Oaxaca, Mexico. Challenge students to trace their journey using Google Maps. Show them how to find driving directions and input the beginning and end points of the journey. Ask them to print out the map of the journey and note how many miles it is and how many hours it takes.
Spanish and English Cognates
Use the book as an opportunity to expand students’ understanding of the similarities between English and Spanish. Explain that there are many similarities between Spanish and English words. Print out this minibook about food cognates for students to read and share.
Naomi takes after her Mexican father with brown hair and brown eyes, but her brother Owen resembles the Outlaw side of the family. Students interested in science may enjoy learning more about genetics by reading about it on the internet or by watching this video.
Provide activities for students who want to learn more about the art of Oaxacan woodcarving. An outstanding book for young students is ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in Spanish and English by Cynthia Weill. ABeCedarios is an alphabet book which uses hand carved Oaxacan figurines of animals to illustrate the Spanish and English alphabet. Alternatively, guide students to research Oaxacan wood carving online and then draw one of the figures they find, including the brightly colored patterns painted on the wood. Students might also research the Oaxacan radish-carving festival called The Night of the Radishes.
Reading and Writing Connection
Finding the Theme
Ask students: What message or lesson about life did you get from reading Becoming Naomi León? Explain that an author doesn’t state the theme of a novel outright. When each reader thinks deeply about a book they take away messages about life. Often, it is like a lesson, such as “determination is more important than talent.” Give students this writing starter: I think the theme of Becoming Naomi León is ____________. I think this because ______. Ask them to write at least three reasons that support their idea about the theme of the book.
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