Surprising Cecilia

By: Susan & Denise Gonzales Abraham
New experiences are never easy, as Cecilia discovers. Much to her surprise, high school is very different from the one-room schoolhouse she attended near her farm.


Surprising Cecilia Teaching Guide,   Surprising Cecilia Classroom Activity Sheet (1)(2),  (3),  (4),  (5), (6)(7),  (8)

New experiences are never easy, as Cecilia discovers. Much to her surprise, high school is very different from the one-room schoolhouse she attended near her farm.

Surprising Cecilia is the second novel—following the success of Cecilia's Year—about a young girl whose dreams carry her far beyond the small farm community where she was born. Both novels are set in the rich Hispanic culture of the Rio Grande Valley of southern New Mexico in the 1930s and deal with the difficulties young women face trying to get an education and strike out on their own in a culture where women are expected to stay home until they marry. Cecilia has worked hard so she can go to high school. Now it's September, the school bus is taking Cecilia to new adventures, surprises and the responsibilities of growing up.

New experiences are never easy, as Cecilia discovers. Much to her surprise, high school is very different from the one-room schoolhouse she attended near her farm. The town students dress differently, they even speak differently with all kinds of new words Cecilia's never heard, and, Cecilia notices, they have money to spend. A lot of the girls have blonde hair and they wear it short, not in long dark braids like Cecilia does. Cecilia is humiliated when she ends up having to wear her brother's old farm boots to school the first day of class.

And much to her surprise and disappointment, Johnny Tafoya is nowhere around. At the beginning of the summer Johnny had let her know he cared for her and had even given her a kiss! But where was he now?

Teachers: Surprising Cecilia can serve as a great educational resource for the classroom. The authors, Susan & Denise Gonzales Abraham, are retired educators and have created a teacher's guide as well as some handouts to help bring Cecilia into the classroom!

9 reviews for Surprising Cecilia

  1. Booklist
    “Based on the life of the writers’ mother, this fictionalized biography (which began with Cecilia’s Year, 2004), gives a rich sense of a strong Latino family during the Depression, including lots of detail about farm chores through the seasons and traditional celebrations and foods. Black-and-white family photos and lots of Spanish terms are woven smoothly into the story. Though rooted in the small New Mexican farming community of the time, the conflict about leaving home is universal.”

  2. Kirkus Reviews
    “Chapters begin with Mexican proverbs and period photographs, as they relate Cecilia’s move from a one-room schoolhouse to riding the bus to high school in town, waiting all year for a letter from her first love, housing and befriending Dust Bowl-stricken Oklahomans and feeling the effects of a whooping-cough epidemic. Cecilia’s main struggle, however, is with her mother, who insists on following older Mexican traditions. An author’s note about the real Cecilia and her life after high school, as well as a list of Mexican proverbs and English translations, follows the text. Sure to find readers especially in libraries serving larger Latino populations.”

  3. School Library Journal
    “This sequel to Cecilia’s Year tells of the teen’s first year in the local high school in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1930s. Devastated when she learns that her crush is attending school in El Paso, Cecilia longs to live in a modern city. She continues to pine for Johnny throughout the novel…An excellent student, she works hard at home to help her family, but receives no encouragement to continue her education from her old-fashioned mother. The book relies on the memories of the authors about their mother, Cecilia Gonzales Abraham, and the retelling of family stories. Captioned black-and-white photographs are included at the beginning of each chapter. A brief endnote brings readers up-to-date on the life of the real Cecilia.”

  4. Children’s Literature
    “The authors explore themes that are important life lessons, and emphasize family values. This story was inspired by the authors’ mother and they illustrate her life with thoughtful insights about how she achieved her American dream. Spanish is intermingled throughout the text, and the conclusion holds a translation of proverbs used in the story.”

  5. School Librarian’s Workshop
    “Having won her mother’s reluctant consent to attend high school in Cecilia’s Year, Cecilia loves her new school despite a rough start. Delighted with having a library, she manages to keep her A average even with her many chores. Her parents give a family of Okies heading for CA a place to stay until they have earned some money. Mamá’s pregnancy adds to Cecilia’s workload and she stops school for a while when everyone except she and her father get whooping cough. Her aunt’s marriage gives Cecilia a chance to leave her small town but she realizes, for now, her place is with her family.”

  6. El Paso Scene
    “After the popularity of “Cecilia’s Year,” sisters Susan and Denise continue to chronicle the life of their mother Cecilia Gonzales Abraham with the second book in their “Cecilia” trilogy. Set in the 1930’s southern New Mexico, this book tells of Cecilia’s struggles to adjust to high school life where everyone comes from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds than herself. Written in easily flowing, conversational “Spanglish,” the Abrahams weave family photos and bilingual proverbs gracefully through the book. Like the first book, “Surprising Cecilia” ends with a promising gesture from a young man in Cecilia’s life leaving the reader awaiting the next chapter.”

  7. Midwest Children’s Review
    “This second chapter book depicting Cecilia, a young Latina girl from a small farm in Derry, New Mexico (Cecilia’s Year, 2004), continues the semibiographical tale about the life of Cecilia Gonzalez Abraham, a successful woman who came from a small farm.

    Despite all the pressures placed on her by her family, the peer pressure at school, and the upcoming temptations of her sense of right and wrong. Surrounded by a changing world, Cecilia is the constant who can be relied on by her family and friends. She is unwavering in her dedication to her education.

    The list of dichos (proverbs) in the back of the book are invaluable in the understanding of a culture as rich in knowledge and insight as it is inn the spice of life. “Hay que bailar al son que le toca”—you must dance to the song that is playing; in other words, you deal with what life deals you in the best way you can. This is one of the most important lessons one can learn in life, love, and happiness.

    Girls today have the benefits of both their traditional roles and their modern-day opportunities. However, sometimes these two worlds conflict and they are left with difficult decisions. What is not a tough choice at all is whether or not to read Surprising Cecilia—an entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful read.”

  8. ALAN Review
    “Cecilia Gonzales has big dreams of leaving her family’s farm, going to the big city after graduating from high school, and getting an office job. The sequel to the award-winning Cecilia’s Year, this tale continues Cecilia’s adventures as she embarks on her freshman year at the modern (for the 1930s) high school. Her mother still disapproves of Cecilia’s dreams, so the 15-year-old goes out of her way to help out at home. The year holds many surprises, including a new baby at home and a love interest. The book chronicles the journey of discovery as Cecilia makes important decisions about family and responsibility. Hispanic phrases and proverbs are sprinkled throughout, lending authenticity. Cecilia is likeable, and her struggle toward independence is heartfelt. This quiet story will find an audience with readers who have outgrown the Little House books.”

  9. New Mexico Magazine
    Surprising Cecilia is a delightful young adult novel—well-written, informative, entertaining and above all—believable. If Little House on the Prairie were set on a New Mexico farm near Hatch during the Depression, it would be this book. It is the sequel to Cecilia’s Year, which was Best Book for Young Adults from the Texas Institute of Letters in 2004.

    Cecilia has just entered high school as a freshman—no small endeavor, which requires a long bus ride, a new dress unfortunately paired with work boots, and a general sense of worry about fitting in. A first-rate student, bookish Cecilia is often at odds with her mother’s vision of her as a proper, old-fashioned farm girl who should stay home until marriage. Cecilia has big dreams, but she is also dedicated to her sprawling family despite the endless hard work.

    The picture of a Hispanic family in the Río Grande Valley in the 1930s is a vivid one. Although certainly not wealthy, the family has enough to eat during hard times—a fact brought home to Cecilia by the arrival of a family driven off the land by the Dust Bowl. Clothes, food, music and family stories are described in loving detail. The reader learns about daily life, from farming to butchering, and meals are vividly drawn. In addition, the text is enlivened by dichos—pithy and pointed sayings that give good advice. They tend to be attributed to Cecilia’s thoughtful and beloved aunt, but they are also a chorus that provides some commonsense wisdom.

    In an intriguing twist, the authors of the book are the grown daughters of the real Cecilia. They have managed to turn a rich family history—and stories that were no doubt told and told again—into a highly readable novel. At the core of the book is a conflict familiar to readers throughout the ages—between a conservative if well-meaning mother who wants the best for her daughter, but on the mother’s terms, and a daughter, Cecilia, who wants a wider world. Cecilia’s quest for education is inspirational for contemporary readers, who might simply take school for granted. The author’s afterward tells of Cecilia’s triumphs in her professional life—including meeting two presidents and four first ladies. And her daughters’ books are tribute enough to her inspiration as a mother.”

Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.