Una lluviosa mañana de domingo

Regional focus: The Whole Wide World

Author: Sooni Kim

Illustrator: Mia Sim

Genre: Children’s literature

I purchased Una lluviosa mañana de domingo over two years ago at the Feria Internacional de Libros in Guatemala.  I read the story lovingly…the soft winter colors of the illustrations evoked nostalgia of the rainy days I know so well living in a country that has but two seasons, wet and dry.  The dreamy young girl in the story who looks out her bedroom window at 7:00 AM on a rainy Sunday morning and imagines  what other children might be doing at the same exact moment around the world reminded me of my eight- year-old self.

I placed the book on my office shelf in the section designated for personal favorites, where it remained sandwiched between other titles until recently when, on a rainy Sunday morning, I lounged in bed and marveled once again over the gentle illustrations and thoughtful words.  However, what struck me as most curious at second glance was the worldly compilation of the book.  The writer is Sooni Kim and the illustrator is  Mia Sim.  While a small biography exists on the web about Sim, (I learned that she was born in 1966, is Korean and was first an electrical engineer before dedicating her career to children’s books),  I can find no information about Kim.  The book was printed in China in 2010 by a Spanish publisher, Pipola.  How does a book written and illustrated in Korea, translated in Spanish, printed in China and distributed by a Spanish publisher end up in Guatemala?  While I may never know the full  journey of Una lluviosa mañana de domingo arriving to my book shelf, I rejoice in the serendipitous path that connected me with a gem of a children’s book.

I’ve only located Una lluviosa mañana de domingo in Spanish print, which limits the audience who may actually be inspired to read it.  However, if you are a Spanish reader, I whole-heartedly recommend that you loose yourself in the whimsical pages of Kim’s book.  And if you happen to be a beginner of the Spanish language, children’s books are an effective yet unthreatening way to approach a new language and you will equally appreciate this clever tale.

What I love:

  • Sim’s illustrations are universally “child,” by that I mean that you could be a child almost anywhere in the world and be able to connect with her  imagery.
  • Kim’s words inspire curiosity  and wonder.
  • Una Lluviosa mañana is a quiet book, a great example that not all children’s books need to use bright primary colors and bold words.

Themes:  childhood, imagination, contemplation

Discussion:

  • What do you see outside of your window at 7:00 AM?  I invite you paint us a picture of your view with words.
  • How do you like to spend rainy days?
  • What do you think 7:00 AM might look like in other parts of the world?  Other countries?  Towns?  Villages?

Connections:

  • Paint a picture of your 7:00 AM view from your window.  Use watercolors in the style of Mia Sim.
  • Make a picture book of “snap shots” of 7:00 AM around the world.  Use drawings or pictures from magazines.
  • Investigate time zones.  When it’s 7:00 AM in your home, what time might it be in other regions of the world?world-time-zones-map-max

If you appreciate learning about what other children are doing around the world at the same exact moment, you may also like Nine O’ Clock Lullaby and At the Same Moment Around the World.

Drum Dream Girl and Summer Thoughts

Regional focus:  Cuba

Author:  Margarita Engle

Illustrator:  Rafael Lopez

Genre:  children’s literature, memoir, poetry

Summer and reading are two words that I hold dear to my heart.  As a child, summer meant lackadaisical days that melted together–ample time to swing from the oak tree in my backyard,  reunite with my neighborhood friends and spontaneously set up the slip n’ slide or create a pillow fort in solitude.

Summer also represented unstructured reading…opportunities to discover what I wanted to read and not what I was expected to read.  I loved The Baby-Sitters Club Book Series by Ann M Martin as well as Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.  Other favorites included The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater and A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

As an adult, summer embodies family vacations (this year in Baja California),  piles of board games and puzzles (too many…for every good summer must eventually come to an end),  late mornings and later nights and ice-cream indulgence. And yet, like the 10 year old child I once was, few and far between are the material possessions  that can make me happier in the summer than a stack of good books to read under the sun or in the refuge of a pillow filled bed.

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I am lucky enough to be traveling this summer, making a triangle between Guatemala, California and Mexico.  One of the unexpected benefits of visiting the US is access to public libraries!  As Vincent Van Gogh said,  “Bookstores always remind me that there are good things in this world.”  I feel the same way about libraries.

My current summer children’s literature reading list, all found at the public library includes:

  1.  Drum Dream Girl, Margarita Engle
  2.  90 Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis
  3. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changes Science, Joyce Sidman
  4. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, Chief Jake Swamp

Other literary treasures I have collected over the summer include:

  1.  There, There, Tommy Orange
  2. The House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea
  3. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

While I have devoured all the books on my list, I am particularly  fond of Drum Dream Girl, written by the talented poet Margarita Engle and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Rafael Lopez.  The book narrates the biography of  Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Cuban-African-Chinese girl who dreamed of becoming a musician.  She was born with rhythm in her blood and the pulse of jazz in her soul.  At an early age, Millo was called to tap on the congas and to  beat on the bongos.  However, in Cuba in the 1920s, like in many places in the world, women were not seen as equals to men, and, they were limited by societal norms that defined who and what they could could become.  Millo aspired to play the drums and to share music with her community, country and the world, but she was was continuously told that only boys could play drums.  She persisted, and formed the first female band in Cuba with her 11 sisters in the 1930s!

Drum Dream Girl is a story of hope, dreams, determination and equality.

What I love:

  • Lopez illustrates with  bright, bold colors that exude the essence of Cuba.  His use of poignant  metaphorical imagery such as a winged drum in a locked cage provokes meaningful imagery.
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  • Engle’s retelling of Millo’s story allows children to identify and challenge cultural norms.
  • What’s not to love about a story with a determined,  passionate, talented, courageous female main character!

Themes:  music, determination, social norms, equality

Discussion:

  • What do you dream of transforming into in the future?
  • What would you do if someone important to you prohibited you from following your dreams?
  • Have you ever been told that you couldn’t do something because you are a boy or a girl?  How did you feel?

Connections:

  • Use found objects at home to make your own drums (cans, pots, boxes) and experiment with different sounds and rhythms.
  • Listen to the music of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga and her band, Anacona here.
  • Make a Zine about your hopes and dreams.  Learn how to make a Zine with author Celia Perez here.

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Big Red Lollipop

Regional focus:  South East Asia Diaspora

Author: Sophie Blackall

Illustrator:  Rukhsana Khan

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been away from academia for a long time…two decades to be exact.  While I love children’s literature and enjoy delving deep into the cultural themes depicted in stories for young audiences, I am rarely challenged to explore all angles of  my book choices.

Mohit, a friend for years, bilingual educator, teacher trainer, global citizen and a current graduate student at the University of Texas, Austen has been visiting La Puerta Abierta for the past two weeks leading teacher workshops, modeling multimodal language activities and living the day-to-day with our students and staff at our center.

In between his activities with our school community, I take advantage of ten minute time gaps to “talk” children’s literature with him and to catch the pulse on current trends and on-going controversies in the realm of education.  There are moments when I fear that I’ve been away from the academic circuit for too long, like when we plunged into the children’s classic Tikki Tkiki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, published in 1968.  I remember repetitively  listening to a recording of Tikki Tikki Tembo on my plastic record player as a child, marveling at the illustrations that transported me to far away and “exotic” places.  I memorized the tongue twister of sounds that accompanied the name of the main character.  In fact, Tikki Tikki Tembo has also become a favorite for teachers and students at La Puerta Abierta.  Hence, when  Mohit discussed the cultural misreprestentations so abundantly present in the story, I was bewildered.  I pulled my tattered childhood copy of Tikki Tikki Tembo off my  shelf and reread the text and examined the illustrations.  The lack of cultural authenticity was startling.

I  recently purchased Big Red Lolipop when a friend recommended it and I quickly fell in love with the bright, bold illustrations by Sophie Blackall and Rukhsana Khan’s tale of  sisterly dynamics.  Khan and Blackall  create scenes that are in many ways universal, and yet, provide the reader with a unique glimpse of life of a Pakastani family living North America that is distinctly authentic.

I was convinced that I had discovered my next title for Sail Away Story, and then…I talked with Mohit! I learned that yes, in the academic world, there is some criticism of Big Red Lolipop.  For example, why does Ami (the mother of the main character) not know what a birthday party is?  Many Pakastani’s do celebrate birthdays and a reader might make assumptions that Ami is simple or unengaged.

That said, Mohit did endorse Big Red Loliop.  In his words:

The book will resonate with South Asian children and allow  all readers a window into the domestic life of a Pakistani family in North America that is “just like other families” in some ways, and different in others.

Later in the day he sent me an essay by Rudine Sims-Bishop which he had studied in a previous graduate course.  Sims-Bishop states “books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange.  These windows are also sliding doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.  When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.  Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience.  Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Big Red Lollipop provides both windows and mirrors for our young readers as they begin to understand themselves and the world at large more profoundly.

While I have no plans of returning  to the world of academia in the near future, I remain grateful for friends and colleagues who connect me to current trends in education and cultural representation, and in turn, encourage me to delve deeper in my understanding of children’s literature.

About:

Big Red Lollipop is a story told from the perspective of Rabina, who is invited to her first birthday party.  When her mother (Ami) insists that she must bring her little sister Maryam along to the celebration, Rabina is mortified and worried not only about what the other children will think of her, but what disasters her sister will ignite.  Maryam does spark a whirlwind of chaos, and Rabina is furious.  However, as the story progresses, we learn that sisterly love often surpasses sibling squabbles and that  forgiveness is a powerful tool.

What I love:

  • Blackall’s artistic choices and attention to detail  with Ami’s salwar kameez (traditional dress of women in the Punjab region), the raja (quilt) on the children’s bed and the embroidered pillows on the sofa allow the reader to glimpse into the lives of a Pakistani family living in North America.
  • Khan’s message goes deeper than “fair is fair.”  She explores real solutions of compassion and forgiveness.
  • In a time when islamophobia is very much alive, I am hopeful to find children’s books that represent Muslim characters in dignified, every-day roles.

Themes:  South East Asia Diaspora, forgiveness, family

Discussion:

  • Why do you think that Ami might not be familiar with birthday parties?
  • What are a few clues that help you to understand that Rabina’s family has origins in a different country?
  • What is forgiveness?  When have you had to offer forgiveness to another person?  Have you ever had to ask for forgiveness?
  • Who do you identify most with in the story?  Why?

Connections:

  • What is your favorite sweet?  Draw an exaggeratedly big picture of it in the style of Blackall’s  lollipop.
  • Rabina’s family is originally from Pakistan.  Find Pakistan on a map.  Investigate interesting facts about the country and culture.
  • Make a list of ways you could welcome a new immigrant  like Rabina into your school, community or neighborhood.
  • Listen and watch  Rukhsana Kahn read Big Red Lollipop here.

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We’ve Got the Whole World in our Hands

Regional focus:  The Whole World

Author & Illustrator: Rafael Lopez

Genre:  children’s literature

Collecting my thoughts for Sail Away Story is a weekend indulgence.  My day job is Director of La Puerta Abierta School and Library in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.  Last month, our project embarked on a large-scale fundraising campaign to ensure a forever home for our school and outreach programs.  We’ve been busy sharing our story of growth and achievements with supporters and potential donors.

Recently I was challenged by a family friend from California who asked,  “How does a contribution to a school project in Guatemala affect me?”

For a second I was silent and stunned.  I felt myself crawling inward, like a turtle withdrawing into her shell; clearly the potential donor and I  had different global perspectives and priorities.  And then, I found my voice, which wasn’t exactly a roar,  but more like the steady and stable dialog of a melodious blackbird in my garden at  dawn.

“How does supporting education in Guatemala affect me?”

 Let’s talk!

We  live in a world that is an intricate  web of connections and interdependencies.  When we are encouraged to think about what is equitable and just, we can see beyond the initial “me.”  We become aware of the wider world and our role as global citizens.  We understand the complexities of social injustices and feel inspired to be agents of change for the well-being of our world.

If we are to examine the question in more tangible terms, we can connect current issues of immigration of Central Americans north, as they flee social and political injustices.  Among the long list of injustices sits the right to a dignified education.  While I understand that I am oversimplifying complex issues (I am a preschool teacher after all:), I recognize that if we, as global citizens were able to invest in education across boundaries, some families would have more investment in staying in their country of origin and have less necessity to flee.  And now let’s imagine that those children who stayed in their country of origin and received a dignified education grew up with the skills and tools to be agents of change, and then invested in their community, both locally and globally.  Might this one initial act of kindness affect you?  I’ll let you decide.

While I was born and raised in California, I have spent more than half my life in Central America.  My husband was born in Brazil and his parents are Belgian.

My daughters (E) who is twelve and (C) who is nine were born in Guatemala and their first words were in Spanish, “agua,” “mama” “nana.”

While there is a sprinkling of expatriates in our town, the foreign community is small, and my daughters are often asked in casual conversation to share their stories.  Visitors will probe, “Where are you from?”  What languages do you speak?”  “Who are you parents?”  and eventually, “What is you nationality?”

The last question in particular, one that seems simple and straight forward, takes curious minds down a windy road of explanation.  (E) might share that her mom is from the United States and that her father is Belgian, but born in Brazil, and that she was born in Guatemala and possesses both Guatemalan and US citizenship. At the end of the dialog, she’s likely to confess that she feels Guatemalan but looks North American.  (C) might say that technically she’s Guatemalan, but that she is also a mix of Belgium, the United States and Brazil.  After a long-winded dialog (she likes to talk), she’d reveal that she’s a global citizen, a child of the world.

At then, my heart skips a beat, as I imagine a world without boarders, where empathy flows across religion, culture and nationality. When packaged in a child’s perspective, world-peace almost seems attainable.

As I struggle to make sense of the psychology of adults, I often look to children’s books that illustrate in both words and pictures complicated topics in approachable packages.  The joyful picture book, We’ve Got the Whole World in our Hands, by Rafael Lopez gracefully brings insight into the concept of Global Citizenship.

The next time someone asks “How does supporting education in Guatemala affect me?” I’ll be better prepared.  I may suggest that they read We’ve Got the Whole World in our Hands, or invite them to join a class at La Puerta Abierta.  

I might simply share the wise words of Rafael Lopez, “It seems wherever we look these days, there is talk of the things that divide us.  With this book, I wanted to express a message of hope to children that we are all in this together, that each and every child is an essential part of the big, amazing planet we call home.”

About:

Lopez’s We’ve Got the Whole World in our Hands brings new life and perspective to a beloved  folk song first published in 1927.  Using the metaphor of a ball of yarn which soars across the book’s  pages, across boarders,  and with the aid of his vibrant illustrations, Lopez demonstrates how we are all connected and celebrated in the spirit of friendship,  love and peace.

What I love:

  • Lopez’s illustrations are cheerful and diverse.
  • Lopez uses a very simple concept as a tool for complex topics and discussion.
  • Lopez has also published a bilingual (English-Spanish) version of his book.

Discussion:

  • In your own words, what does the metaphor “We’ve got the whole world in our hands,” mean?
  • Have you ever helped another child, adult, or animal?  What inspired you to lend a hand? How did you feel while you were helping?
  • Do you feel that you are similar or different from children who live in other parts of the world?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • Become a global citizen.  Learn about children from different cultures or countries than your own.
  • Create a collage of the diversity that can be found across the globe.  Keep in mind that there is diversity amongst people and geography.
  • Exchange letters with a pen-pal in another city, state or country.  Ask questions. Share stories.
  • Represent the metaphor “We’ve got the whole world in our hands,” in a drawing.

 

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We Are Grateful–Otsaliheliga

Regional focus: The Cherokee Nation, North America

Author:  Traci Sorell

Illustrator:  Frane Lessac

Genre:  children’s literature

I have lived in  an indigenous Maya community in Guatemala for 17 years now, nearly half of my life, and for most of my adult years.  While I am not an expert on the Tzutuhil Maya who have lived for generations in Santiago Atitlan, the village I call home, I have accumulated a deep appreciation and understanding of the Tzutuhil culture via daily immersion in a highland Maya town.

I grew up in California, which is also land deeply rooted in Native American history.  Ironically, I learned very little about Native American culture as a child.  What exposure I did receive about the indigenous people was generic and superficial.  I remember tasting fry bread at town fairs and assuming that the greasy snack was “authentic” and learning to make “leather” vests out of crinkled paper grocery bags around the time of Thanksgiving to replicate the clothing of  Native Americans.  Rarely did I learn of the cultural values, traditions, folklore or struggles of  Native Americans.

 I recently had the opportunity to travel to the East Coast of the United States with Ana, second-grade teacher at Puerta Abierta Atitlan.  The journey was a year-in-the-making colaboration between Living Threads Co. and The National Museum of Women in the Arts.  In addition to being a phenominal educator, Ana is also a valued artisan of the Mothers’ Artisan Initiative at La Puerta Abierta . She was selected to be the first recipient of the Global Artisan Exchange Scholarship via Living Threads Co.  I could dive into a deep tangent about our amazing week on the East Coast, but instead, I will encourage you to read more about our experience here.

When Ana was asked where she’d like to visit in DC on her free day, she quickly selected The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, and I was over the moon to join her. We walked the multi-story museum in awe of  artifacts and exhibits of the Native cultures of the Western hemisphere.  

While perusing the museum gift shop, I discovered Traci Sorell’s picture book “We are Grateful,” and instantly fell in love.  Perhaps her words won me over, or Frane Lessac’s bright and cheerful  illustrations caught my eye.  Maybe, in the moment, I was simply overcome with gratitude for the experience to be soaking in and celebrating indigenous culture with  a friend.   Most certainly, I was overjoyed to discover a beautiful children’s book that so accurately and honestly represented a deep value of the Cherokee Nation, otsaliheliga or, gratefulness.

About:

Traci Sorell introduces us to the Cherokee Nation concept of otsaliheliga, a word used to express gratitude.  As we journey through the year with a contemporary Cherokee family and their tribal nation, we learn how they  express thanks for celebrations big and small.

What I love:

  • I appreciate the contemporary descriptions and illustrations of a modern Cherokee family.
  • Sorell’s message of acknowledging gratitude in our day-to-day is valuable for both children and adults alike.
  • Lessac’s illustrations are colorful, innocent and expressive.
  • The book contains  Cherokee vocabulary and  syllabary.

Themes:  indigenous people, gratitude, seasons,  community

Discussion:

  • In your own words, what does gratitude mean?  What are you grateful for?
  • Does your community/family honor traditions or celebrations during the different seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall)?  If so, how do you celebrate them?
  • In We Are Grateful, we recognize that the Cherokee people express profound gratitude to Mother Earth for her many blessings ( crops, seasons, trees, snow, animals, etc.)  What are  you grateful for that can be found in your natural surroundings?

Connections:

  • Create your own gratitude book with pictures or  words describing what you are grateful for.
  • Learn more  about the Cherokee Nation here.
  • If you live in North, South or Central America, investigate what indigenous groups of people were present where you currently live prior to the discovery of the Americas by European explorers.

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At the Same Moment Around the World

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author and Illustrator:  Clotilde Perrin

Genre:  children’s literature

It’s 9:00 am on a Sunday morning in Brussels, Belgium and the colors from my window have only now changed from black to gray.  My daughters are preparing for the cold outside as they layer their sleepy, warm,  bodies  in tights, pants, shirts, sweaters, scarves, thick socks and mittens.  Soon, they will journey to the neighborhood bakery for fresh croissants and petit pain au chocolat which they will bring back to the apartment in a paper bag.  In the meantime, I’ll heat milk for hot chocolate,  and water for black tea.

We are 7 hours earlier than our friends in Guatemala, three hours earlier that our friends in Brazil, 9 hours earlier than our family in California and 4.5 hours behind  our friends in India! These are the time zones I have saved on the world clock app on my iPhone.  Nearly every day my youngest child Chloe, will ask about her friends in various places around the world, and she will wonder where they are and what they are doing at the same exact moment.  When she is on the metro at 4:00 PM in Brussels, her best friend Lupita in Guatemala might be making tortillas with her mom where its 10:00 AM and her friend Khushi in the Indian Himalayas  might be crushing cardamom and ginger to make a spicy cup of chai tea to keep her warm where it’s 8:30 PM.  Chloe and I will marvel over the idea that not only the hour changes according to time zone, but also the daily activities of children around the world change.  Her morning commute to school in Guatemala which includes a tuc-tuc, a boat, and a walk looks very different from her Belgian cousin’s commute.   Nell rides her bike to school every morning.

As an adult I continue to be mesmerized by the mini worlds within our big world. The act of boarding a plane in Central America  and exiting an airport in Europe 15 hours later  still feels like a feat of the future, a science fiction fantasy.  I imagine the magic of travel is all the more potent for the child mind.

About:

In Clotilde Perrin’s whimsical book, At the Same Moment Around the World, we peek into the lives of individuals around the globe and catch a glimpse of the lives of Benedict drinking a cup of hot chocolate in France, Mitko catching the school bus in Bulgaria, and Lilu enjoying lunch on a Himalayan mountain. Clotilde Perrin takes readers eastward from the Greenwich meridian, from day to night, with each page portraying one of (the original) 24 time zones.

What I love:

  • Time zones are fascinating and confusing for children and adults alike.  “At the Same Moment Around the World” provides a fun and informative platform to teach children about the topic.
  • Perrin’s illustrations are whimsical and magical.
  • “At the Same Moment Around the World” creates a platform for young readers to learn about children in other countries and cultures.

Themes:  culture, time zones, diversity

Discussion:

  • Do you have friends who live in countries different from your own?  What do you think they are doing in this moment?
  • How is it possible that it might be day in one country and night in another?
  • What would snapshots of your day in different moments  look like (7:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 4:00 PM)?

Connections:

Sun Unit Study - Day and Night (4)

 

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Illustrator:  Charles Ballesteros

Genre:  children’s literature

As a child, cemeteries scared me.  I wasn’t frightened of a potential encounter with a ghost nor was I afraid of bumping into a dancing skeleton.  In fact, ghosts and skeletons were whimsically enchanting to my child mind.  However, I was uneasy with the quietness, the sterile ambiance, the secluded locations that  accompanied cemeteries in the United States.  I grew up in Southern California, and I remember sitting in the back seat of my mom’s Honda Civic, as we drove on the freeways that linked the suburbs to  the Valley to greater Los Angeles, and wondering about the signs that lead to cemetaries in the distance.  They were often found a few miles away from the off-ramps, in unpopulated areas.  

My great-uncle died when I was 15, and his funeral was the first I remember attending.  The silence of the cemetery made me feel as if I needed to hold my breath, as if a simple exhalation would disrupt the balance of the quiet park.  Graves were placed in tidy rows, symmetrical and rectangular.  The green grass was short, freshly cut, too perfect.  And, I couldn’t wait to leave…to exhale, to talk, to feel.

I have lived abroad in Central America for nearly as long as I lived in the USA, first in Costa Rica, and for the past 15 years in Guatemala.  My first encounter with a cemetery in Costa Rica was immediate and striking.  Cemeteries in Latin America are often located in town centers and the bus I rode home from the university circled the local cemetery before chugging up the steep hill to my neighborhood.  The cemeteries were a colorful, chaotic collection of raised graves in a labyrinth of wavy  lines.  Often the ice-cream vendor would be selling home-made treats  for visitors to purchase at the entrance.  During the day, families and individuals passed through the cemetery to “saludar” a dead relative or simply to stroll to their next destination.  The cemetery was alive, and perhaps, for the first time in my adult life, I felt unafraid while visiting.  

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I have never experienced Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, but I have had the privilege of knowing  Dia de los Santos in Guatemala for the past 15 years.  On November 1st, families gather in our local cemetery to sit, to remember, and to honor their loved ones who have passed away.  Words can’t describe the holiday; truly it’s an event to feel.  Abuelos string their guitars and sing to their dead wives, candles twinkle in the night air, the tink-tink of the ice-cream cart dances through the graves.  There is laughter and there are tears.  There is no silence.  Flowers adorn tombs, both large and small.  Again, the cemetery is alive.

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While I acknowledge that mourning and death are strong and difficult topics to confront in any culture, I feel that when death is familiar, and not hidden, when death is a celebration of memories and not an overwhelming tragedy, death becomes a passage, a natural occurrence, a transition that doesn’t need to be laden in fear.

For this one simple reason (although there are many more), I appreciate the celebration of Dia de los Santos/Muertos and look forward to the yearly ritual to remember and honor those who are no longer with us, and poco a poco, I feel more comfortable with the theme of dying.  

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Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong is a fantastic tool for sharing the concepts of the holiday with children.  

About:

Dia de los Muertos introduces readers, both young and old, to the traditional holiday of Day of the Dead that is celebrated in Latin American countries on November 1st.   Thong writes in catchy rhymes which make her story fun and enjoyable to read aloud.  We learn of the tradition of creating and eating calaveras (sugar skulls), of decorating altars to honor the lives of those who have passed, and of visits to decorated cemetaries.

What I love:

  • I love that a holiday  that is unfamilar to many, now has a children’s book to explain it’s rituals and importance.
  • I love the joyful and colorul ilustations of Ballesteros.
  • I love that Thong weaves Spanish vocabulary into her story.

Themes: cultural festivities, ancestors, traditions

Discussion:

  • What is your favorite family celebration?
  • Has a person or an animal who was special to you died?  How do you remember him/her?
  • Do you think that our ancesters who have passed away can feel our presence when we celebrate them?  Why?  How?

Connections:

  • Make an altar to honor a special friend, family member or pet who has passed away.  Decorate your altar with photos, food that the person/pet enjoyed, flowers, and streamers.
  • Draw a picture of your favorite family celebration.
  • Print out and color a calavara.   Find  templates here and here.

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