Finding the Music: En Pos de la Música Mini-Unit

The Mini-Unit Designer

Chrissy Howard, instructional leadership specialist in literacy

Hiram L. Dorman Elementary at Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MA

Mini-Unit plan created March 2017

Introducing the Mini-Unit

This unit is designed for classroom instruction in any integrated classroom in grades K-5, specifically in Springfield, Massachusetts. This lesson can be used in small groups of special education students, in full classes, or on grade level or school level teams.

Contextualizing the Picture Book

Torres, R. (2015). Finding the Music: En pos de la música (Alarcão. Illu.). New York, NY: Lee & Low.

Library of Congress Genres:

  1. Grandfathers—fiction
  2. Musicians—fiction
  3. Mariachi—fiction
  4. Guitar—fiction
  5. Hispanic Americans—fiction
  6. Spanish language materials—bilingual


In this book, a young Latina girl named Reyna accidentally breaks her mother’s prized possession— Reyna’s grandfather’s vihuela. (A vihuela is a guitar shaped instrument with 5 or 6 doubled strings, similar to historic lutes.) Reyna searches throughout her community for someone who can help her repair the vihuela. While searching for help, she discovers her grandfather’s legacy and is able to share that with her mother.

About the author and illustrator:

Author Jennifer Torres

Interview from the publisher with Jennifer Torres, author of the book. She talks about her inspiration for writing this book and why she chose mariachi and the vihuela as a focal point. She talks about how she was an avid reader as a child, and why it is important for young children to read “diversely.”

She talks about mariachi being a living art, not just a stereotype of Mexican-American culture, and how it has a long, rich heritage and identity. She also speaks to her decision to write a bilingual book, in order to allow children more ways to relate to the story and see themselves in it.

Illustrator Renato Alarcão 

Alarcão’s online artist’s portfolio, with examples of work for both child and adult audiences. As a teacher, review the content before displaying to children.


Winner of the 2011 New Voices Award, Lee and Low

This award is given annually to a children’s picture book manuscript by a new writer of color

Learning Experience Design #1

Mariachi Exploratory

Educators can craft a listening experience by selecting from some of the available resources listed below.

Mariachi is a musical expression of Mexican origin. It dates back to at least the 18th century and is considered traditional music of Mexico. It is an evolving genre of music with its own history. Mariachi can sometimes be associated with stereotypes of Mexican culture, so be sure to discuss this idea with students.

In the author’s words: “So Reyna, the story’s main character, is named in honor of mariachi trailblazers like Lola Beltran, known by many as ‘La Reina,’ the Queen, and of more recent all-female mariachi groups like Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles who happen to be based in Southern California where I’m from.”

A page entitled “Celebrating Women in Mariachi” from the author’s website that includes links to information about female mariachi performers, and a video of a high school mariachi group, Mariachi Chavez, performing a Lola Beltran song.

Torres discusses the image of Reyna holding the photograph of her grandfather’s mariachi group—a group of five people, all men—and how mariachi has long been male-dominated, but that there are many women who dance, play, and sing in mariachi bands.

This high school mariachi band, Mariachi Chavez, inspired the author to write this book. Torres is passionate about this program and other high school mariachi groups.

This website provides a basic overview of mariachi, including the significance of mariachi music and videos of different types, performances, and settings.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website includes numerous tracks of mariachi music.

Mariachi Video Samples:

Mariachi Flor De Toloache: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Sebastien De La Cruz & El Charro De Oro Mariachi Band

Additional Mariachi Book List:

Smith, J. D., & Jones, D. (2008). The best mariachi in the world. McHenry, IL: Raven Tree Press.

Ruesga, R. R., & Polanco, E. (2013). Los mariachis. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Arroyo, M., & Hawes, M. (2007). La fiesta y el mariachi. United States: Marta Arroyo.

Schoen, J. (2012). The lost mariachis. United States: Little Pearl Publishing.

Multimodal Families and Communities Connections:

Invite families to contribute to a sing-along, with focus on clapping and shaking percussion instruments to the rhythm of the music. The performance can be recorded in class to be sent home via DVD or uploaded to YouTube, as either method may be more easily accessible to some families.

Check out this resource to create family-friendly YouTube videos:

Purchase a CD or share a free online music list for families to listen to mariachi and other rhythm-based music at home together using a website like You can also make a playlist on to share for free on any wifi-capable listening device.

Also consider families that may be able to contribute pieces of their culture that may include the mariachi or other rhythm-based music like calypso (Afro-Caribbean music from Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean, and Venezuela), or samba (Brazilian music and dance style, with roots in West Africa), and many others.

Additional Multimodal Opportunities:

This website has a great how-to section on making shakers that don’t pop open. Simple recyclable materials and basic supplies allow children to make shakers at low cost. You can even make extra and send them home to families to play together.

Lesson plan and step-by-step guide by the author on how to craft your own paper plate vihuela.

Creating Multimodal Interdisciplinary Opportunities:

Create an illustrated story map for Finding the Music: En pos de la Música. Torres provides a lesson plan and downloadable story map materials.

Learning Experience Design #2

In this story, Reyna explores her community and sees that her grandfather’s legacy is multifaceted and goes beyond the one heirloom vihuela.

As a group, define “legacy”. How does culture relate to our legacy—how do the ways in which we go about our lives have deep roots in our ancestry and our families and traditions?

In the model of “show and tell”, have students work with their families to select 1-4 items that show the “legacy” of someone close to them. Depending on the age of the students, families may provide a few notes on each item and/or visit the school on their child’s share day. Oral/traditional stories are encouraged as an “item” to be shared. This can be done in a story circle to include some of the phrases and words the visiting adults provide.

Multimodal Families and Communities Connections:

See Learning Experience Design #2.

This could also be done in one family event, with small groups of children/families going around smaller circles.

Additional Multimodal Opportunities:

Students can use digital cameras in class to take a picture of each item as their “show” and write their “tell”.  This could be compiled into a short story or mini book about the person’s legacy.

A class book can be written by compiling each short story/mini book. These could be collected and bound in a book, or published online on a blog or website.

Resources to build a free website (with ad-free pay options) and publish original images. Online how-to guides are quick and easy reference for first-time developers. 

Resources to build and publish a free blog. Format is similar to common Word/Pages applications, so this is a great resource for both new and experienced bloggers.

Creating Multimodal Interdisciplinary Opportunities:

Have students ask the library, family, community members, and neighbors if they know any great books that showcase the legacy of different musicians. Have students gather, explore, and share these resources. Discuss how these legacies are important even today.

Learning Experience Design #3: Mini Memoirs

A series of writing lessons focusing on how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact in the narrative. This suggestion from Torres gives students an opportunity to write a first-person narrative of their own lives.

Multimodal Families and Communities Connections:

Students can read aloud these mini-memoirs in an “open mic” style at a local business or community area. Reach out to locations that might host an intergenerational population, like a library or local barbershop.

Additional Multimodal Opportunities:

Create a play where the memoirs are acted out, including at least one “costume change” where the character shows change over time. Ask family members for clothes to change into.

Creating Multimodal Interdisciplinary Opportunities:

The memoirs can be recorded and displayed with a variety of technology to increase access.

Resources to build a free website (with ad-free pay options) and publish original images. Online how-to guides are quick and easy reference for first-time developers. 

Resources to build and publish a free blog. Format is similar to common Word/Pages applications, so this is a great resource for both new and experienced bloggers.

Summative Learning Experience

Concert and Student Work Presentation

Arrange for a live rhythm-based music group (like mariachi, drumming, or even a local high school jazz band) to play at a central location (i.e. your school, community center, or public park). With the home-made shakers, encourage students, families, and the audience to dance and shake rhythmically. Have a station where participants can make their own shaker. Intersperse the live music with readings from the “legacy” books and mini-memoirs. Plays of mini-memoirs can be performed between music sets.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.5.1.C Pose and respond to specific questions by making comments that contribute to the discussion and elaborate on the remarks of others.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.5.1.D Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions.

Next Steps for Learning

Read and compare with The Skirt by Gary Soto. In this book, Miata loses her special folklórico skirt and attempts to get it back without her parents discovering her loss. Very similar themes, but not a picture book. (Soto, G., & Velasquez, E. (2008). The skirt. New York: Yearling.)