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.  

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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.
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  • 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.
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Nochecita–Little Night

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Yuyi Morales

Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been thinking about mothers.  I am sitting in the airport in route to meet my mother in New Orleans.  Despite the fact that I am nearly 40 years old, she is traveling from California to meet me mid way between Guatemala, where I will receive an award on behalf of La Puerta Abierta for Innovative International Library Programs from the American Library Association.  While I am now a mother myself, my mom is still MY mother, and I will bask in her love and support over the next few days.

As I remember my own mom, my mind wanders to the current issues of the US, the heart-breaking stories of children separated from their mothers in unfamiliar territory, without the guidance, love, warmth, and security that we associate with motherhood.  I imagine the what ifs…what if my daughters were separated from me, and I was unable to protect and sooth them?  Sigh.  Deep breath.

And my thoughts drift  back to our sweet students at La Puerta Abierta in Guatemala who spent the day honoring  Mother Earth by planting trees to the mountain highlands with their teachers and families.

Today, I share one of my favorite stories about mothers.  

Meet Little Night and Mother Sky in Morales’ dreamy tale of the love exchanged between mother and child. Mother Sky prepares her tiny daughter, Little Night, for the evening. As Mother Sky attempts to set the scene for bedtime, Little Night engages in clever games of hide and seek, inspiring her mother to discover where she is hidden. Children will love the idea of a girl who plays while she should be sleeping.

What I love:

  • Morales captures the loving rituals between mother and child.
  • The illustrations allow one to feel as if they have walked into a dream.
  • Little Night and Mother Sky are beautifully brown, round, and dressed in traditional Mexican clothing.
  • The book can be found in both English and Spanish.

Themes: family, rituals, the night sky

Discussion:

  1. What are your family bedtime rituals?
  2. Do you have a favorite bedtime story? What is it?
  3. What can you see from your window at night?

Connections:

  1. Take a walk with an adult at night to admire the evening sky.
  2. Use black, white, purple, blue and yellow paints to create your own night sky.
  3. Record and draw the moon phases for a month.

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“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth

Regional focus:  Amazon

Author:  Eric Carle

Illustrator: Eric Carle

Genre:  children’s literature

 My earliest book memory is of  The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  As a child, I’d joyfully turn the pages of the book, enchanted with the geometric bright collages that are often associated with Eric Carle.  While his stories may seem simple at first glance, Carle writes with the grace of a skilled author of children’s books, carefully weaving purpose and meaning into his story, while using a limited amount of words.  I’ve grown up, but I continue to have a soft spot in my heart for Eric Carle books.  Slowly, Slowly, Slowly resonates to my grown-up self; I am an adult with an internally slow soul, who lives in a fast world.  

In Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth, we journey to South America and follow a wonderfully slow sloth in his day-to-day tranquility.  He eats slowly.  He walks slowly.  He climbs slowly.  He sleeps abundantly.  We meet other forest friends like the anteater, the caiman, and the monkey who are curious about the sloth’s behavior.  They ask, “Why are you so lazy?” and “Why are you so boring?”  The sloth listens, but does not react or reply quickly.  Instead, he thinks, he sits, and collects his ideas.  Only after gentle meditation does he reply with his words of wisdom on slow living.

What I love:

  • The message of Slowly, Slowly, Slowly is applicable to both the lives of children and adults in today’s world.  Many of us could benefit from slowing down.
  • Eric Carle’s illustrations are like walking into an Amazonian kaleidoscope.
  • Jane Goodall writes a heart-felt forward about the importance of protecting the Amazon rainforest and the animals who depend on it for their existence.
  • Young readers will learn about the creatures who call the Amazon “home.”

Themes: mindfulness, the Amazon, slow living, acceptance

Discussion:

  • Do you prefer to walk, eat, make a meal, etc., slowly or quickly?  Why?
  • Would you like to visit the Amazon?  Why or why not?
  • After reading the story, what words would you use to describe the sloth?

Connections:

  • Investigate the life of a sloth and make a small display of interesting facts about it.  For example, did you know that sloths only lower to the ground once a week to go to the bathroom?
  • Create a list of activities that you like to complete slowly.
  • Make a collage of the Amazon with recycled paper in the style of Eric Carle.

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Islandborn

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Junot Diaz

Illustrator: Leo Espinosa

Genre:  children’s literature

I have always been intrigued by stories of origin and fascinated by the power of memory.  My daughters were born in Guatemala, and I am from the United States.  My husband is Belgian, but he was born in Brazil and grew up in Britain.  Children are innately curious and I encourage my kids to ask questions about my childhood, their father’s childhood and the journeys of their grandparents.     

In Junot Diaz’s first children’s book Islandborn, we meet Lola, an inquisitive, young, and creative girl who attends a school with many students who have immigrated from different countries.  When Lola’s teacher, Ms. Obi, asks her students to draw a picture of their country of origin, Lola is perplexed.  She left “the island” as a young child and her memories of her birth country are fuzzy and difficult to recall.  Ms. Obi recommends that Lola talks with family and friends to recollect memories of “the island,” and that’s exactly what she does.  We meet neighbors, friends, and family who share insight to life, both the beauty and struggles, of the Dominican Republic and with the aid of illustrations by Leo Espinosa, we enter the collective memory of Lola and her community.

What I love:

  • The main character, Lola, is bright, curious, loving and represents cultural diveristy.
  • Island born  is a story that both children and adults will enjoy and find meaningful.
  • The artwork by Espinosa is wildly colorful and imaginative.
  • Juno Diaz simultaneously wrote Islandborn in Spanish.  The Spanish edition is Lola.

Themes: memory, origin, family history, immigration

Discussion:

  • Lola attends a school with many children from different countries.  Are there children from different countries at your school?  Where are they from?
  • What are some of the memories that Lola collects about the Dominican Republic?  Are all of the memories happy?  What does the monster represent?
  • Lola learns of foods that are celebrated in the Dominican Republic that her friends celebrate and remember like sweet mangos and crunchy empanadas.  Imagine that you are an adult.  What foods do you think that you will remember from your childhood?

Connections:

  • The Dominican Republic is celebrated for music and Caribbean beats.  Collect music from the DR and dance your heart out like the characters in Islandborn.
  • In the style of Lola, make a picture or collage  that represent your country of origin.
  • Interview a parent or grandparent about their childhood memories.  Prepare a few questions before you interview them that you would like to explore.

Nine O’ Clock Lullaby

Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel to India with my eldest daughter, Emma.  On our journey from Guatemala, we stopped in New York and Dubai, and passed through  many time zones.  When we finally arrived at our destination, we were 11.5 hours ahead of our friends and family back home (yes, India is one of the few countries that has a .5 hour change in time).  Emma and I marveled at the concept of her sister preparing for  the day to begin as we were putting on pajamas .  We wondered what her grandmother in Belgium was doing when is was 9:00 PM in India, and what her cousins in California were up to as we gazed at the stars over the Himalayas.  When it’s 9:00 PM in Guatemala, what time is it in your home?

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author:  Marilyn Singer

Illustrator: Frane Lessac

Genre:  children’s literature

Discover what is happening around the world in different time zones. A young girl learns that when it′s 9 P.M. in Brooklyn, it′s 10 P.M. in Puerto Rico, and midnight on the mid-Atlantic. Far from the busyness of New York traffic, the Puerto Rican night is filled with conga music, sweet rice, and fruit ice. In India, villagers begin their morning chores as well… ropes squeak, buckets splash, and bracelets jangle. Meanwhile, in Australia, a sly kookaburra is ready for a noontime feast.

What I love:

  • A great book to explore the concept of time zones, which is abstract for children.
  • The rhyming in the book is fun to read.
  • Illustrations are bright and colorful.

Themes: world exploration, time zones, culture

Discussion:

  • How can it be day in some countries and night in others at the same moment?
  • Are there any countries from the story that you would like to visit? Why?
  • What does 9:00 PM at night look like in your house?

Connections:

  • Make a time book and investigate what might be happening in four different countries at one particular time. Illustrate or write about what scenes might be occurring in the different countries.
  • Explore, what does breakfast look like in your country and in another country?
  • Make your own clock with a paper plate. Talk with a friend about what you do at different times of the day.
  • Look at a world map. Predict what time it is in different regions of the world.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace

Today I ask myself, “what small change can I accomplish that will make a difference in our world?”  I live in rural Guatemala where plastics are a common site on roads, in parks and on the shores of our lake.  Recently my daughters and I pledged to give up plastic straws–a small change, with a big impact.  And you?

Regional focus:  Kenya

Author:  Jeanette Winter

Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

Genre:  children’s literature, biography

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Wangari’s Trees of Peace is the  inspiring biography of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist, activist and educator from Kenya.  We learn of Wangari’s journey from childhood where she lived below the shade of trees near Mount Kenya to her adult years when she defended  trees and organized reforestation programs which eventually lead to an internationally recognized program known as the “Green Belt Movement.” Wangari motivated local women from her country to plant more than 30 million trees throughout Kenya.  In 2004, Wangari won the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to the environment.

What I love:

  • A story with an inspiring main character who is an agent of change for her community.
  • Colorful illustrations that are playful and serious at the same time.
  • Wangari shares a true story of challenge, hardship and courage with vocabulary that is approachable for children.

Themes: environmental education, women leaders, bravery

Discussion:

  • How do we know that Wangari is brave?
  • Why are trees important?
  • What have you accomplished this week to help our planet?

Connections:

  • Imagine you are Wangari and, plant a tree (or a few).
  • Wangari is a woman who inspires many because she was brave, courageous, and stood up for what she believed in.  Make a picture and/or write about an inspiring woman in your life .  Why does she inspire you?
  • Learn more about Wangari’s life by watching this  short documentary.
  • Make a collage using the warm colors of Africa (red, orange, yellow) for a background with watercolor paint.  Tear small pieces of construction paper to collage a tree on top of the painted background.

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The Wheels on the Bus

If you have traveled to Guatemala, you’ll know that the buses “camionetas,” are colorful, lively, bumpy, loud and a journey within a journey.  You have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, share stories of the day, watch life from the bus window, listen to Spanish music from the 80s, eat fresh sliced mango, and share a seat with a chicken or a dog.  Vamanos!

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  The Amador Family

Illustrator: Melanie Williamson

Genre:  Children’s literature

Join a Guatemalan family on an exciting bus ride through their town with a fresh new perspective on a classic children’s song.

What I love:

  • The book includes facts about Guatemalan life at the end of the story.
  • The book comes with a CD of the song so that children can sing along.
  • Ilustrations are playful and colorful.

Themes:

Transportation, family, journey, community

Discussion:

  • What modes of transportation exist in your community?
  • If you were on a bus in your town, what sites would you see from the window?
  • Who do you like to travel with? Why?

Connections:

  • Make a map (draw or create with recycled materials) of your town and include notable landmarks on it.
  • Learn a few new words in Spanish, one of the many languages of Guatemala (autobus=bus, ninos=children, ciudad=city, madre=mother, padre=father).
  • Make tortillas, a traditional food from Guatemala, or just pretend to with playdough.

Recipe (8 tortillas):

1 cup of masa (corn flour)

2/3 cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients, separate into 8 balls, flatten, cook on stovetop, eat, enjoy!

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Epossumondas

Regional focus:  North America

Author:  Coleen Salley

Illustrator:  Janet Stevens

Genre:  Children’s literature

Next month I will be traveling to New Orleans for the American Library Association National Conference.  La Puerta Abierta will receive an award for Innovative International Library Projects!  I am thrilled to represent our center at the conference, and I am equally as excited to explore the layers of culture in New Orleans.  In honor of my next journey, today I celebrate a read aloud favorite from the south of the United States.  

Epossumondas is a comical tale of a young possum, Epossumondas, who is doted on by his loving mother, a cheerful, round, and gregarious human, and his auntie.  We follow Epossumndas through a series of hilarious mishaps as a result of his interpretations of language in a way that’s far too literal.

Epossumondas takes place in the south of the United States and the reader receives insight to authentic southern culture including fruit pies, alligators and vocabulary like “sweet little patootie.”

Coleen Salley explains that Epossumondas is a type of folktale known as a noodlehead story, one where mishaps happen but are not caused deliberately.  The plot might be highly improbable, but not impossible.

What I love:

  • Epossumondas is a really fun book to read aloud.
  • The story is absolutely silly.  Children and adults adore silly books.
  • A book that my children have asked to be read again and again.

Themes:  misunderstandings, communication, folktales, forgiveness, laughter

Discussion:

  • Have you ever misunderstood directions and done something all wrong?  What happened?
  • What does Epossumondas’ mother mean when she says, “You don’t have the sense you were born with”?
  • Have you ever seen a possum?  Would you like to have one as a pet?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • In Epossumondas, Coleen Salley uses many expressions from her culture and upbringing such as “sweet little patoottie”  Make a list of expressions that you and your family use that are particular to your culture.
  • Investigate other animals that are native to the southern United States such as the alligator, raccoon and nutria.
  • Explore other noodlehead stories and compare and contrast them with Epossumondas.