On Family Engagement

Today’s Sail Away Story post is our second edition  of  “A Little Birdy Told Me…” in which I feature a guest writer who shares about her favorite cultural children’s books or global schools.

Meet Erin Conway–friend, teacher, writer, educational coach and weaver of both textiles and words–as she delves into the importance of a book concept in education  called Family Engagement.

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In her own words:

I am not old, but I have lived many teacher lives.  I began my professional career as a bilingual teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin, but my desire to seek a deeper understanding of my students and foster intercultural connections in the field of education lead me to accept a Peace Corps assignment in Guatemala.  It was during my Peace Corps years in Guatemala that I first met Amanda, and I have been fortunate to benefit from both personal and professional exchanges since then. For ten years (2005-2015), I worked both teaching and training teachers in Guatemala. These experiences were instrumental in crafting my instructional practices with expanded definitions of teacher and continue to impact my current work in outreach, coaching educators and consulting on multicultural/diverse literacy programs and resources in Wisconsin today.

“Who is your blog’s primary audience?” I asked Amanda shortly after I began writing.

“My best guess,” she responded. “Would be educators and parents and people who like me.”

I read those final words multiple times incorrectly as “People like me.”

And who are those people?

Like Amanda, I was an avid childhood reader, and books remain a means to both expand my world as I look forward, as well as make sense of my life as I look back. But, it was during a writing class my first few months in Wisconsin after returning from Guatemala that I voiced how integral books had been to my profession as much as my person. For the workshop, I had written a modern fairy tale about teaching and blank books, travelling and (re)writing your own story. The day my story was critiqued, I had stayed behind after class, sitting side by side with my writing instructor.

“What do you like about teaching?” she had asked while I bit back tears of embarrassment. My classmates’ comments had not been exactly what I expected. “The purpose for this story, you have to narrow it down.” The instructor was very matter of fact. “Why are you a teacher?”

Once upon a time, I had started professional development with questions like that with classroom teachers and parents, with children and adults. My mind shot to the books my mother had written with me. Recycled paper with stick figures and a few words. “The storytelling,” had slipped out with tears I’m not sure I hid.

If you are an adult and enjoy reading books suggested on this blog, you are not alone. My own analysis of diverse book lists for adults are too often crowded with VERY academic/thick texts. This research also tends to be EXTREMELY depressing which I do not believe is the most effective way to inspire human relationships or agency. If you are a classroom teacher and/or parent reading Sailaway Story, you may be familiar with the concept of Family Engagement. Family Engagement in education is best described as commitment and intention developed through communication between all parties, child, caregiver, school/community. This ideal influences how I select resources.

At its foundation, themes addressed by the books described are similar to those integral to other selected books on Sailaway Story’s blog: adolescent leaders, bravery, courage, hardship, friendship, kindness, ancestors, traditions, war, loss, memory, immigration, family, journey, community, responsibility, survival, optimism, empathy, hope. My focus on book groupings made up of diverse stories is the variety of formats (adult/juvenile non fiction, picture books, graphic novels, illustrated fiction, juvenile/adult fiction) in order to facilitate conversations across ages. I create these book clusters because it provides links into diverse literature that allows for all experience and reading levels to read on the topics and to encourage discussions beyond school walls.

Parents and classroom teachers, young and old, readers and listeners are all storytellers. No matter who you are, as you read I would encourage you to talk about:

  • What were your favorite books as a child?
  • How? Or, why are they still relevant today?
  • Do you see any of your favorites reflected in children’s selections?
  • How might a children’s book engage adults in conversation? And, vice versa, how might you encourage complex themes to be discussed with children?
  • What is your story? How would you tell it? In paragraphs, pictures, poetry?

In honor of the region of the world where Amanda and I first met, the first selections are all related to Latin America. I arranged them from general to specific to general in scope and somewhat chronologically.

Since the Peace Corps welcome packet had arrived at my door complete with a recommended reading list, I was familiar with U.S. intervention in Latin America. Amanda referenced this type of story in her previous selection of Caminar by Skila Brown. What I learned while reading Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II by Mary Jo McConahay was the fight for the allegiance of Latin America beginning during World War II and the impact still felt today. One example of the implications of World War II politics is detailed in the young adult book in verse Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. Margarita Engle is a masterful voice of little known stories and her young adult novel in verse illustrates in the story of a young Jewish boy’s attempted escape from Europe the complex themes in McConahay’s large scope.

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder speaks through present day voices about the same struggle for hearts, minds and riches of Latin America. In order to appease U.S. efforts to win the “war on drugs” Bolivia responded to pressure to make increased numbers of drug related arrests. Crowder’s novel follows the arrest of a father on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority. The final books, a picture book and an adult novel, illustrate the narrative of immigration, its hope and its obstacles. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is narrated by three different people, a Chilean lecturer who completed her education in Canada after securing escape from Chile in the 1970s, a human rights professor, son of Jewish immigrants and an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant. Each one of them, if not in the political definition of the term, are dreamers. And, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales is the illustrated autobiography of her immigration story.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/documents/tt_abc_respect_for_families.pdf

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/kitchen-table-connections-re-envision-homework-clare-roach

socialjusticebooks.org

weneeddiversebooks.org

“What do you like about teaching?” This question that I return to for purpose is the question I pose to you, Sailaway Story reader, because my heart will always be in the answer I gave to my writing teacher on that October evening with my own narrative swirling in red ink. It will be the same as my classroom days when I impressed upon my students that everything was a story and that the same story could be told in an unnamed number of ways. I am an educator. I am not a parent. I do like Amanda. And, the books we choose to read make us storytellers.

When I have the opportunity to post as a guest storyteller on Sailaway Story, my contribution will be to connect books that connect individuals to more ways, formats, languages, to tell and hear stories. I also manage a website and blog that can be found at www.erinconway.com where I often write about diverse books as both a reader and author. Previous publishing credits include the Midwest ReviewThe Sonder ReviewVine Leaves Press and Adelaide Literary Magazine.

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)

 

Reading Season

I am a book purist, a “one-book-at-a-time” type of reader. I like to devour a story, from start to finish, without mingling in other books simultaneously.

However, this month I have found myself buried in a sea of books, reading 6 novels and “involved” with two more. Caught between the pages of a plethora of titles has left me feeling somewhat scattered, and yet also invigorated.

In Guatemala, a common saying is “hay que aprovechar,” which translates to one must take advantage of a situation. The Guatemalan school year ends in late October and begins in mid January. The school calendar was originally designed to accommodate the coffee harvest and allow a break in the school year for children to participate in the cutting of coffee beans. While child labor continues to exist in many Central American countries, fewer youth are recruited during the non-school months to work in the fields today.

As a result, la Puerta Abierta “aprovecha” the months of November and December to engage with reading circles throughout the community of Santiago Atitlan and beyond. Currently we have 3 groups dedicated to older elementary school students, two groups dedicated to jr. high level students and three adult reading groups.

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In addition, I always have a book for myself at my bedside table and a chapter book that I read at night with my two daughters.

Why is the feat of reading 6 books invigorating? The act of loosing myself in multiple novels in truth is ambitious and somewhat overwhelming. However, what sharing books with numerous children, teens, and adults represents in wildly exciting. Rural Guatemala has one of the highest illiteracy rates in Central and South America. Books are hard to come by, and often too expensive for families to purchase. Hence a culture of readers is just beginning to emerge. Discussing The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate with a group of engaged 4th graders who are receiving their first novel is gratifying. Sitting in a circle with 10 teachers who are reading Before we were Free by Julia Alvarez and pondering questions of political freedom in a group setting is deeply rewarding.

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While the “vacation” months don’t necessarily feel like holiday as I meet with a variety of reading groups, I truly wouldn’t trade “reading season” for a month rest—that is, unless I could take my reading circles with me to a glorious beach in Mexico where we could discuss novels from our hammocks and sip cold coconut water.  Until then, meeting in our school, delving into books, and creating meaningful connections with literature will be just fine.

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The Reading Season Book List

  1.  The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, 4th grade reading circle
  2. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan, 5th grade reading circle
  3. The Only Road, Alexandra Diaz, 6th grade reading circle
  4. Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, Rick Riordon,  jr. high reading circle
  5. Before we were Free, Julia Alvarez, adult reading circle
  6. Like a Fish in a Tree, Lynda Mulally Hunt, adult reading circle
  7. Like Water For Chocolate, Laura Esquivel, adult reading circle

What I am reading just for me:

The Beautiful things that Heaven Bears, Dinaw Mengestu

What I am reading with my daughters E (12 years old) and C (9 years old):

Pax, Sara Pennypacker

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

 

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