But it quickly became apparent that neither I nor my Spanish-speaking students were going to connect to the kind of “Spanglish” used in the “Skippyjon Jones” books, principally because it wasn’t Spanglish at all. When I was in middle school, some of the kids in my class would make fun of Spanish and of our Spanish teacher by just adding “o” to the end of the words. They would say things like, “I-o don’t like-o this class-o,” and then high-five each other and say, “Nice Spanish, dude.” “Skippyjon Jones” operates on the same principle, creating gems like “ding-a-lito,” “stinkitos,” and “snifferito.” Skippyjon Jones is a cat who pretends to be a Chihuahua and talks in a fake Mexican accent (“they are reely, reely beeg, dude”) and calls himself “El Skippito Friskito,” which drives me crazy because there are no k’s in Spanish. If one of my students started talking that way, we would have conversations about stereotypes and offensive behavior. Yet somehow these are popular children’s books.
A few pages into the read-aloud, I realized I had made a big mistake. I tripped over the fake Spanish words and ridiculous names (Poquito Tito? What does that even mean?). In order to have read the book well, I would have had to adopt a fake Mexican accent and essentially mock the way that Mexican people speak, even clapping along to fake mariachi songs with lyrics like, “Diggeree diggeroo diggerito (clap-clap) / We learned something new from Skippito! (clap-clap) He scares them to death/ with his old pickle breath,/ and that’s how we get fossilitos! (clap-clap).” Note: This is also false history. This is not, in fact, how the dinosaurs became extinct.
Tongue-tied and embarrassed, I put the book down. Later, still ashamed that I had subjected my students to even ten minutes of that horrific read-aloud, I tossed both the book and the floor puzzle in the trash. Even a gorgeous floor puzzle and a free book were not worth subjecting my students to toxic racial and linguistic stereotypes.
—Grace Cornell Gonzales