Before We Were Free

Every other Sunday morning, I reunite with 7 junior high students at the neighborhood school in Santiago Atitlan.  I could write an entire essay about how these seven students are exceptional, pushing the boundaries of social and cultural norms, dreaming big, and vibrantly confident, but that would be a post for a different blog on young,  emerging leaders in rural Guatemala.

The teen reading group has been meeting for two years now, and the participants self selected  themselves to meet twice monthly and use books as a tool to explore culture, current events, history,  literature and their own personal stories via books.

Recently we finished reading Before We Were Free, by Julia Alvarez and I was impressed and inspired, yet not surprised by the conversation generated by our circle.

Guatemala’s current President, Jimmy Morales, who has been in office for 1.5 years, has recently been under scrutiny by national and international organizations.   Just three years ago, former President Otto Perez resigned after national protests and he was subsequently arrested.  He was accused of fraud.

Hence, when a group of teens is encouraged to explore the theme of freedom, especially in the light of corruption, conversation becomes thought provoking, genuine and real.  As we compared the current stories of Guatemalans to those living in Alvarez’ book in The Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s dictatorship in the 5o’s and 6o’s  we we able to identify similarities and differences.  Most intriguing was our conversation about civil disobedience…when do we feel compelled to break rules in order to obtain personal freedom or the freedom of a group of people?

I do not know how the next weeks will transpire in Guatemala.  There is talk of planned protests and social media is overloaded with criticism of the current state of affairs.  However, I do know that the 7 teens in our reading circle are confident, critical thinkers, and leaders who, even at a young age, are capable of generating ideas about what’s just, on a personal and political level.  They are also aware of the power of their own voices, and sometimes, during periods of conflict, our voices  become the strongest resistance.

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Julia Alverez

Genre:  juvenile historical fiction

In Before We Were Free, we meet 12 year old Anita de Torre in the year 1960, in the Dominican Republic.  We quickly learn that many of Anita’s extended family members have emigrated to the United States and that her Uncle Toni has been missing for some time after displaying opposition to the dictatorship of Trujillo.  Through the eyes of a young girl, we witness the fear, hope and struggles that are a constant presence for those living through a time of political unrest, all the while confronting the day to day of adolescence.

What I love:

  • Alvarez educates the reader about the history of the Dominican Republic, the Trujillo Dictatorship and Las Mariposas.
  • Before We Were Free is a true “coming of age story.”
  • Before We Were Free is less intense than Alvarez’s adult novels such as In the Time of The Butterflies, but equally as impactful.
  • What’s not to love about a strong, young, curious, female main character!

Themes: freedom, adolescence, war

Discussion:

  • In your own words, describe freedom.  How do you know that you are free?  Or lacking freedom?
  • Throughout the book,  Anita keeps a diary where she can record her thoughts, when she unable to speak them.  Do you keep a diary?  Why or why  not?
  • Can you remember a time in history or currently when a group of people or an individual has fought for freedom?  When? Why?  Where?  What happened?

Connections:

  • Research a recipe from the Dominican Republic such as Tostones (fried plantains) and prepare them for your friends and family.photo-1
  • In Before We Were Free, we learn that the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961,  was ruled by dictatorship, or a government in which  power is controlled by one person or a small group of people.  What kind of government exists in your country?  Explain how the government of your country functions.
  • In the book, Anita refers to “The Butterflies/Las Mariposas.”  Investigate and learn about the Butterfly Sisters and the important roles they played in the history of the Dominican Republic.28d0b5fa2cd600a0c24eb27f03710b61

 

Blueberries for Sal

Today’s Sail Away Story post is our first edition  of  “A little birdy told me…” in which we will feature guest writers sharing about their favorite children’s books and schools from around the world.  

Meet today’s “little bird,” Christine Banas.  The words that come to mind when I think of Christine are writer, mother and grandmother, early childhood education specialist for children with different capacities, photographer, and world traveler.

19679120_1508056902578863_2098794943748947120_o

As we hug the last days of summer (the first day of Autumn is September 22), Christine  highlights a childhood classic of summer in the USA.

Summer! Such a rich word conjuring up images ranging from wild splashing in a rolling surf, lying on a worn dock as the sun bakes you dry, to ice cream dripping down your arms as you try to catch its deliciousness before it all melts. Long days and short nights signal that special time of freedom especially in the northern part of the United States. Wintry days eke into fall and spring making it a longer season than the calendar would have you believe. As a result, I found summers in Maine to be exceptionally precious. The warm sun when it finally brightened the countryside christened the blueberry bushes with sweetness beyond words. My children and I would spend early mornings picking the dewy blue orbs that my mother-in-law would turn into muffins, pies, and jam.

When the memory of summer was buried under a foot of snow, my children loved reading the book, Blueberries for Sal written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. It reminded us of an activity we shared and opened us up to a story about the love of mothers and their child.

Regional Focus: Maine, a state in the United States

Author: Robert McCloskey

Illustrator: Robert McCloskey

Genre: children’s literature

This timeless story, though probably set in the late 1940’s in Maine, takes us on a blueberry picking trip with Little Sal and her mother. They set off for Blueberry Hill with their metal pails to pick berries for mother to can for the winter. Little Sal picks a few berries and puts them in her pail. Then she picks three more berries but she eats them before they make their kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk noise in the pail. Mother works her way up the hill but Sal’s little legs are getting tired. She eats all of her berries and then reaches her hand into mother’s pail and helps herself. Mother suggests Sal go collect her own berries so she plops down in a clump of bushes and proceeds to eat the berries.

At the same time, a mother bear and Little Bear are working their way up the opposite side of the hill. They are preparing for winter by eating as many berries as they can so they get big and strong to make it through the winter. Little Bear would lag behind his mother and then have to hustle to catch up to her. Finally, he tires and sits down in a clump of bushes and, proceeds to eat berries.

Meanwhile, Little Sal has finished eating and looks for her mother. Instead, she finds Little Bear’s mother and begins walking behind her. Simultaneously Little Bear has lost his mother as well and begins walking behind Little Sal’s mother. Eventually, both mothers turn around and realize they have the wrong little ones following them! All ends well with the mothers and their little ones reunited and everyone has gathered more than enough blueberries.

images-1

What I love:

  • There is an innocence and simplicity to this story that speaks of a child’s fearless independence and ability to be in the world yet is secure in the unspoken knowledge that her/his mother is always there to protect them.
  • The illustrations are broad stroked in black and white and look almost like woodcuts that capture the detailed expressions of each of the characters and their surroundings.
  • The story shows an activity that touches on what many readers have probably never had the chance to enjoy. I love that we see how both animals and humans have similarities—they need to provide nourishment for winter and sometimes they even eat the same type of food.

Themes: mothers and their children, nature, respect

Discussion:

  • How are human mothers the same or different from animal mothers and their offspring?
  • How do you think Little Sal felt when she couldn’t find her mother? How would you feel if you got separated from the adult you were with?
  • Little Sal and her mother are picking blueberries together. What activities do you do with your families?

Connections:

  • What are some ways animals prepare for the winter? Why do they have to make these preparations?
  • Little Sal’s mother talks about wanting to “can” the blueberries so they can eat them over the winter. What is she talking about? Learn about how food can be preserved so it lasts a long time.
  • Make a batch of blueberry muffins or a blueberry pie so you can experience baking and eating this blue fruit.  Find a simple recipe here.  images-2

 

The Jungle

I am back home in Guatemala, land of eternal spring, after spending a month of summer in California.  I’ve lived abroad now for more years than I have spent in my country of origin, and I continue to be fascinated by my observations as I come and go, traveling  between countries.  For me, global travel has become something of an art.  I can pack  for myself and my family with little stress the day before our departure, I have learned to quiet the internal critic that longs to compare lifestyles here and there, and the nerves of a potential passport left behind or the crises of a forgotten bathing suit are virtually non-existent.  I suppose the art of travel is somewhat zen, be here now, at it’s finest, and I take great pleasure in the practice of gracefully transitioning in new places.  This said, even after all these years, I relish my first days back in Guatemala, when I feel as if I have been given a new lens to see my ordinary world with.  Suddenly, the lush green of the banana tree leaves seems a little brighter.  The magenta  petals of the buganvilia on the foot path to my house radiate color.  The huipiles (traditional embroidered blouses) that the women wear in my village appear more extraordinary in their texture and design.  

In the 1960s,at a time when few foreigners traveled to the deep rainforests of Central America,  children’s book  writer and illustrator Helen Borten journeyed to Guatemala as a single woman, with the intention of learning about the jungles close to the equator and sharing her story with children.  Many of her books are celebrated for her focus on the senses and The Jungle, is no exception.   Just this year, Enchanted Lion Books reprinted The Jungle which was originally published in 1968.  While I don’t live in the jungle, I do live on the shores of  mystical Lake Atitlan, in a village surrounded by 3 ancient volcanos.   No matter how many times I come and go, I cherish the lens of  perspective that travel provides me.  

If you are craving a glimpse of Guatemala, I recommend that you delve into Borten’s  The Jungle, rich in both words and images, where you will indulge in the vitality of the senses uncovered in the rainforest.

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  Helen Borten

Illustrator:  Helen Borten

Genre:  children’s literature

In Helen Borten’s The Jungle, we slip into the natural world of a dense rainforest.  We learn of the flora and fauna who inhabit different layers of the jungle and witness the wonders of wildlife  as one simple day passes in nature.  Borten uses a mixed media approach to illustration, combining block print with collage to create striking images in earth tones of life in the forrest.  She crafts delicate prose that transport the reader to the heart of the jungle.

What I love:

  • Borten’s layered,  mixed media illustrations will enchant both young and old readers.
  • The book has a dreamy essence, as if you could shut your eyes and transport yourself to an forest still untouched by human influences.

Themes: rainforest life, food chain, day and night, habitat

Discussion:

  • What animals did we read about in the story?  What animal did you find most unusual?  Why?
  • What does morning look like in the rainforest?  Afternoon?  Evening?
  • What animals live at the tops of the trees of the rainforest?  And what animals live below the trees, low on the ground?

Connections:

  • Imagine that you are a scientist on an expedition in the Guatemalan rainforest.  Write or draw a short page of “notes” of your observations.
  • Experiment with natural prints in the style of Helen Borten.  Use found objects in nature such as fruits, leaves and sticks to stamp on paper.  LeafPrints_mainpic
  • Using different textures of paper, make a mural of the rainforest which shows the different caps of vegetation in the jungle.  c6d81583d21dce445b1cf134e11956f1

We all Went on Safari

I haven’t traveled to Africa yet, although I am confident that my wanderlust will guide me there in the coming years.  Until then, I continue to visit Africa in books.  I like to dream of a time and place when animals, big and small,  roamed freely on an peaceful and plentiful Earth.  

If I had a pair of ruby slippers, I’d tap them together and step into the pages of  We all Went on Safari.  I’d  join Arusha, Mosi and Tumpe as they admire the animals of Tanzania from a distance with wonder, respect and honor.  

Regional focus:  Africa/Tanzania

Author:  Lauri Krebs

Illustrator: Julia Cairns

Genre:  children’s literature

In We all Went on Safari we meet Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their Maasai friends in Tanzania as they take us on a walking safari through the African grasslands. As we turn the pages of Kreb’s story, we encounter native animals like elephants, lions and monkeys. Along the way, we  learn to count in Swahili.

What I love:

  • The book contains an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about each of the animals and facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people.
  • The story uses repetition, which invites children to participate in read a-louds.
  • Krebs weaves gentle rhymes and descriptive adjectives into her writing.
  • The illustrations by Julia Cairns are playful, vibrant and whimsical.

Themes: counting, habitat, African animals

Discussion:

  • What animals did you most like in the story?
  • How old are you in Swahili?
  • How are you similar and different from the children in Tanzania?
  • Where would you like to explore with your friends? Why?

Connections:

  • Investigate a specific animal from Tanzania.
  • Make animal masks with supplies found at home. Play “safari” in your garden.
  • Design your own Maasai necklace with a paper plate and paint.African Necklace Craft

 

 

Joseph had a Little Overcoat

I am in California for a month of summer, visiting with family and friends.  My base is at my parents’ ranch near Yosemite, a place where I didn’t grow up, but where I love to call “home.” In this abode, my parents have dedicated a wall to historic black and white photos of previous generations of family.  A favorite diversion of my own is time travel, especially to the past. I stare into the youthful eyes of great-grandparents  from Austria, Belarus, and Poland, most who immigrated to the the United States of America between 1910-1920 in search of new hope and opportunity.  I am reminded that there was a life before the US, for my ancestors and subsequently for me . More poignantly, I recognize that I am the great-granddaughter of a web of immigrants, just like many people who cross our boarders today.  

And I think about the power of memory and stories, which provide us with the tools to go back in time, to lands and people who are infinitely connected to us, yet endlessly unfamiliar.  When I read “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” I was transported to Eastern Europe and, as if looking through a telescope to a foreign land and time, I caught a glimpse of what life may have looked like for Great Grandpa Szmul and Great Grandma Dyna.  

IMG_6439

 

Regional focus:  Eastern Europe

Author:  Simms Taback

Illustrator: Simms Taback

Genre:  children’s literature

In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” we meet  Joseph who lives in the shtetl–the small villages that Jews inhabited in Eastern Europe.  He lives a modest and humble life, but his day to day is full of simple joys like harvesting in the fields, savoring a cup of warm tea and singing with the choir.  When his overcoat becomes old and worn, he uses his creativity and wit to convert the tattered fabric into new items of clothing.  Readers delight in guessing what Joseph’s overcoat will be repurposed for next.

What I love:

  • Taback’s story was converted into an animated song with authentic klezmer music.
  • In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” we are reminded of the importance of reuse and repurpose.
  • Taback’s collage illustrations are bold and colorful.
  • Toback’s use of repetition combined with his sense of humor, lend for “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” to be an ideal story to read aloud to young audiences.

Themes: reuse, resourcefulness, optimism

Discussion:

  • Have you ever had an item of clothing like Joseph that after much use was tattered with holes or torn?  What did you do with the old fabric?
  • What does the word “recycle” mean?  What does the word reuse” mean?  How do you recycle or reuse in your home?
  • What brings Joseph joy in his daily life?  What brings you joy?

Connections:

  • Repurpose  scraps of clothing and with the help of an adult, sew a small blanket, or napkin using a basic over-under stitch.
  • Make a self portrait of yourself using scraps from magazines and recycled paper.
  • Write a new story following the same sequence as “Joseph had a Little OverCoat” where you are the main character,  “Name” had a Little “object of clothing.”  Imagine what your clothing could be reused for when  it has become old and warn.  Illustrate your story.

Tomorrow

I live in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a small rural village nestled between three majestic volcanoes, on the shores of Lake Atitlan.  My house is 400 meters away from the school I founded and work at, La Puerta Abierta , and my morning commute includes a hop, skip and a jump through my garden.  An observer of my life could fairly say that I live in a bubble.  I am generally unwilling to loose myself in the darkness of politics and I avoid reading the newspapers of Guatemala which often highlight urban tragedies and car wrecks on the front page.  Some might label me as naive, as my questions regarding world struggles may appear childlike.  That said, I believe that naive is far from ignorant and I often use children’s books to reconnect with the world at large.  Day to day, my focus is local, collaborating with the teachers, families, and children in my little corner of the world in Guatemala.  I believe that my community efforts will inspire outward change.  I like my bubble, but I also recognize the importance of journeying out of it.  Via Nadine Kaadan’s Tomorrow,  we visit Syria, a war torn nation and witness conflict and hope through the eyes of a child.

Regional focus:  Syria

Author:  Nadine Kaadan 

Illustrator: Nadine Kaadan

Genre:  children’s literature

In “Tomorrow,” we meet a Yazan, a young Syrian boy who craves to go outside and return to the carefree youth that he remembers.  He wants to visit the park, play with his friends, and ride his bike in the street like most children .  Inside his house, the ambiance has turned dreary and sad.  His mother who used to paint beautiful pictures, now sits alone, and pensive, in a dark room, listening to the devastating news of his war-struck country.  One afternoon, after Yazan has exhausted all his options of indoor activities, his curiosity overcomes him and he sneaks out of the house and begins to explore the world outside.  He discovers an abandoned city, no children are playing in the park, no vendors are selling treats in the streets.  He hears the echo of explosions in the distance.  When Yazan’s parents find their son alone wandering the city, they embrace him and in kid friendly terms, explain why for the moment, he cannot play outside.  Yazan’s mom, embraces her creativity and invites him to help her bring the outside in.  Together they paint a colorful mural of city memories within their house.

What I love:

  • Kaadan’s story is raw and honest, without being tragic of scary for young readers.
  • Kaadan’s illustrations cleverly reflect the emotions of the characters in the story.  When Yazan’s mother is sad, colors are grey and dark.  When Yazan feels hopeful at the end of the story, colors are vibrant and happy.
  • Tomorrow inspires hope for a generation of children who have lived and witnessed war, not only in Syria, but across the globe.

Themes: family, war, hope, empathy

Discussion:

  • What is war?  Why do you think that people/countries/groups fight?
  • Have you ever had a conflict with a friend or a family member?  How did you resolve the conflict?
  • How do you think Yazan feels at the beginning, middle, and end of the story, Tomorrow?

Connections:

  • Find Syria on the map.  What countries surround Syria.  What are some of the cultural traditions found in Syria.
  • Like Yazan and his mother, design a mural of favorite places in your town and illustrate them on a large piece of paper.
  • Imagine that you have invited Yazan to your house for lunch.  Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask him.  What advice would you like to share with him?

You’re Snug With Me

Regional focus:  The North Pole

Author:  Chitra Soundar

Illustrator: Poonam Mistry

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been away from Sail Away Story for a few weeks, floating in a sea of culturally rich children’s literature.  I spent the last  days of June at the American Library Association Annual Conference  in New Orleans where I had the opportunity to meet authors and illustrators from around the world and to connect with publishers and book distributors who specialize in children’s books with cultural and worldly insight.  I discovered new publishers such as Lee & Low Books, Enchanted Lion Books, and Latana Publishing who offer a wide range of beautiful books that celebrate diversity.  I met inspirational authors and illustrators such as Yuyi Morales, Celia Perez and Mallika Chopra who were sharing their most recent works.  I returned to my home in Guatemala with my suitcases stuffed (and overweight), with an abundance of new books to explore and enjoy with my family and students.  Little by little, I am emerging from a journey around the world via books and ready to share recent favorites with Sail Away Story.  Enjoy!

In You’re Snug With Me, we meet a mama bear and her two new born cubs in the Arctic.  Baby bears are preparing to emerge into the world outside their cave and encounter feelings of excitement and fear and they approach the unknown.  Mama repeatedly assures her youngsters that for the moment, they are safe and snug, and when it’s time for them to part, they will be capable to maneuver the challenges, adventures and journeys of life on their own.

What I love:

  • Mistry’s illustrations are stunning.  She incorporates a love of nature with patterns, shapes and color.  Her illustrations are inspired by Indian fabric and paintings.
  • Indian born Soundar lives in Canada and writes children’s stories with settings in countries around the world.
  • You’re Safe With Me is calm, gentle and cooling in both illustration and text, a book that will sooth emotions for both the young and old.
  • My daughters adore reading this story with me before bed.

Themes: empathy, family, emotions, courage

Discussion:

  • How did you feel on the first day of school when you had to say goodbye to your parents?  How did you feel after the first week of school?
  • What makes you feel safe and snug?
  • Would you like to visit the Arctic?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • Mistry’s illustrations resemble mandalas.  Traditional mandalas are used for meditation and are designed to promote healing and spiritual growth.  Color your own mandala. Find printouts here.
  • Make a list of warm and cool colors.  Discuss what kinds of colors Mistry uses in You’re Snug With Me.  Experiment with cool colors and finger paint.
  • 2219061eafb7f94c86e136962f1cac05
  • Learn about Arctic animals and make a collage with animals found in the Arctic habitat.  Glue them on top of your cool-colored  fingerprint backdrop.
  • 34a86147a1ad9c92abe829b32c9df0b3