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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Her Right Foot

 

Regional focus:  The United States

Author:  Dave Eggers

Illustrator:  Shawn Harris

Genre:  children’s literature

I recently spent 5 days in Houston, Texas.  I’d never been to Texas and while I had a few preconceived notions of the Lone Star  State, my prototype of the region was ambiguous at best.  Prior to my visit to Houston, the top five images that came to mind  were:

  1. Cowboy boots
  2. George Bush
  3. Oil
  4. BBQ
  5. Pace Picante Sauce

Some months ago I had seen “Anthony Bourdain:  Parts Unknown”  the Houston TV episode, hence, I knew that the state had more to offer than nachos and cowboys–don’t get me wrong, I love nachos and cowboys–but I also love culture and diversity.  

At first sight, Houston appears to be suburbia at its finest.  Track houses with square gardens expand throughout the city, Target, Barnes & Noble, and Whole Foods are abundant, and mega-highways create maze like structures.  On the surface, Houston doesn’t seem different from other US cities that have “grown up” in my lifetime.  I could have been in my childhood suburb of Valencia, CA or in Tempe, Arizona.  

However, behind the suburban veil, Houston displayed a surprisingly more authentic persona.  

My first lunch was at an Indian restaurant, and at the table next to me, a group of friends chatted vibrantly in Spanish.  At night, I ate at Mai’s Vietnamese Restaurant  and spotted at least 10 different cultural groups.  While shopping at Target, I heard Portuguese, Spanish, Polish and other languages I couldn’t decipher.  

Not only did these cultural groups exist in the same environment, they also seemed to co-exist…that is to say, to live together, work together, speak together, while maintaining their cultural identity.  

One of my favorite pastimes is perusing  book stores in new cities, hence when I stumbled across a book store in a shopping center, I was lured into the wonderful world of stories and illustrations in the children’s section.  On display was Dave Egger’s, Her Right Foot, a profound children’s book that was published last year.  Egger’s story brings to life the history of the Statue of Liberty, and on a much broader level, speaks of the statue’s symbolism of welcoming  immigrants with love, grace, and empathy.  The current news is daunting, and I am not naive in thinking that immigration today is “a bowl full of cherries.”  However, when visiting places in the United State like Houston, where cultural diversity exists and in many ways thrives, I feel a tiny bit of recoil to the angst I often experience when thinking of the boundless hardships that current  immigrants encounter in the “land of the free.”  Her Right Foot expresses the powerful message of acceptance that our statue proudly stands for, and as Entertainment Weekly so perfectly stated, “a friendly reminder of how America can be at its best.”

About:

Her Right Foot tells the story of how the Statue of Liberty came to be one of the most famous landmarks in the United States and shares an array of fun historical facts of her creation. In addition, Eggers zooms in on Lady Liberty’s right foot, that is in constant motion, alluding to the idea that she is always moving, always acting, never stagnant in her plight to protect our values of equality, freedom and diversity.

What I love:

  • Her Right Foot is a story that children of all ages will delight in, and that adults will treasure.
  • Her Right Foot reminds us of the origins of the United States, a country rooted in the journey of immigrants.
  • Harris’ illustrations, made with cut paper and ink, are playful and vibrant.

Themes: immigration, freedom, acceptance

Discussion:

  • Why do you think people for different countries might  immigrate to the United States?
  • What is freedom?  Why is freedom important?
  • Would you like to visit the Statue of Liberty?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • The Statue of Liberty is a symbol (an image that represents and idea or concept) of liberty and freedom.  Design your own symbol of liberty.  How would you represent liberty in an immense  statue?
  • Harris uses paper and ink to create his illustrations of the Statue of Liberty.  Experiment with collage (cutting and gluing paper scraps together) to create your own version of the Statue of Liberty.
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  • Investigate why the Statue of Liberty is green.  The statue was originally a dull brown when it was inaugurated in 1886.  What happened?  You will find an explanation here  and can even conduct your own experiment to see how the statue slowly changed from brown to green.

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The First Rule of Punk

I am the mother of a tween.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tween is defined as:

  1. Between
  2. Preteen

As I reflect on my  current  state of motherhood as mama to my nearly 12- year-old Emma, the word that resonates  with me is surreal.  How did my first born suddenly transform into an almost teenager?  She’s  as tall as I am, and, we have been sharing shoes for the past six months.  Equally as boggling is the idea that I am the mother of an almost teen!  While I celebrated my 40th birthday this year, my internal identity is at a constant 28-years -old, the age I was when Emma was born.  When I was in my early twenties, and envisioned motherhood, I often saw myself as the mother of a baby, or a toddler, or an eight-year-old, yet I rarely thought about mothering a teen.  Hence, my present day-to-day with a tween in the house has a dream like quality to it.  Emma will graduate from primary school this year, she’s desperate to dye the points of her silky blond hair blue, her favorite past-time is filming herself or her sister performing remakes of songs by artists I’ve never heard of.

And yet, she continues to hold onto the fringes of her childhood innocence.  She enjoys having a snack after school prepared by mom, she is totally  oblivious to her own beauty and she still solicits cuddles before falling asleep at night.

Luckily for us both, my tween hasn’t given up our ritual of bedtime stories.   While we are no longer reading Beatrix Potter and Eric Carle,  we do take delight in loosing ourselves in the pages of great novels read aloud before the lights are turned off.

We both relished The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez which just happens to highlight 12 -year -old Malu, in the midst of tween life.  Emma loved the voice of Malú, one of curiosity, authenticity and sensitivity.  As a mother, I appreciated reading a story with a confident girl  main character to my daughter.

Regional/Cultural focus:  The United States with attention to latino culture

Author:  Celia C. Pérez

Genre:  juvenile fiction

Twelve year old Maria Luisa (Malú) is beginning the school year in a new city.  She’s not happy about the changes on the horizon, and  she’s only mildly open-minded about attending a different school.  Her father, who hasn’t made the move to Chicago with Malu and her mother, owns a record shop a thousand miles away.  He and Malú share a deep love for music, especially rock.  He reminds his daughter that the first rule of punk is, “always be yourself.”

Taking this message to heart, Malú embraces the challenges of being “the new student” at a delicate age.  The reader discovers that Malú is fiercely independent, funny, empathetic, and a little rebellious.  She loves designing zines, practicing music with her band, The Co-Cos, and skateboarding.  As the novel progresses, we journey with Malú through her tween days, as she finds her  voice (both literally and figuratively)  and claims her own unique identity.

What I love:

  • The zines that are woven through The First Rule of Punk are engaging, fun and innovative.
  • Malú is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary spirit.  She is a positive and real role model for tweens.
  • Pérez incorporates Mexican-American culture and history into Malu’s story.  We learn of Lola Beltran, a celebrated Mexican singer and explore cultural celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos.

Discussion:

  • What kind of music do you like?  Do you have a favorite band? What genre of music speaks to you?  Why?
  • Malú uses zines as a way to express herself.  How do you express yourself?
  • Do you ever feel that the rules are your school are unfair?  Why?

Activities:

  • Create you own zine.  Find ideas here.
  • Look at different altars made for Dia de los Muertos.  Arrange your own altar to remember and honor friends, family and pets who have passed away.  17d19b78c3dca98f2f152dc17f0fa922
  • Investigate Lola Beltran and learn more about her life.

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.

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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.

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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

 

Island of the Blue Dolphins

*Book cover illustration by Lucia Calfapietra and lettering by Nicolò Giacomin.

As a child, I loved the solitude of my school library.  I was quiet and dreamy, and preferred the cool calmness to the library over the loud games of the playground.  When I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Bingum, our school librarian recommended Island of the Blue Dolphins for me to read.  While four-square tournaments were in full swing on the asphalt, I was lost in the story of Karana, a young Native American girl, not much older than myself , learning to survive alone on an island not far from where I lived.  I recently reread Island of the Blue Dolphins with a teen reading circle, and was quickly enamored for the second time with Karana’s story.  

Regional focus:  North America

Author:  Scott O’Dell

Genre:  juvenile historical -fiction

Travel back in time to the early 1800s and meet 12-year-old Karana, a native of an island off the coast of California who is unexpectedly left behind, alone, when her tribe is forced to flee. Karana lives in solitude on the island for 18 years, and writes of her experience of survival.

.What I love:

  • I read Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child! 30 years later, I continue to love the book.
  • A true story of courage and adventure of the spirit.
  • The newest edition includes a powerful introduction by Lois Lowry, Newberry Medalist and author of The Giver.

Themes: survival, resilience, courage, coming of age

Discussion:

  • How do we know that Karana is resourceful and resilient?
  • In the story, Karana becomes good friends with a dog. Are there animals in your life that provide you with friendship and company?
  • If you were Karana, would you have returned to the island to save your brother? Why or why not?
  • What do you think that Karana thought of the man who rescued her after living on the island alone for many years?
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins has won many awards. Why do you think it is a celebrated book?

Connections:

  • Island of The Blue Dolphins is a story of historical fiction. Investigate the true story of Karana.
  • Make a map of Karana’s island.
  • Investigate wild plants in your neighborhood that you can eat.
  • Write your own survival story, fiction or nonfiction.

 

 

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.