In 2020, Puerta Abierta Atitlan, the school that I adore and founded nearly 15 years ago, welcomed a new student into our program. To respect the privacy of our student, I’ll refer to him as *Lucas*. Lucas transferred to our center as a 4th grader. Prior to his arrival, he had bounced between a few different schools in our community where he struggled to fit in.

Lucas likes sparkles, rainbow sneakers, nail polish, and fashion. In fact, he dreams of designing clothes in the future and, when his mind begins to drift in class, he’s known to be making sketches of run-way ensambles. Lucas accessorizes with hair clips, purple socks and unicorn prints. He also loves to play sports, read books and participate in the school robotics club.

La Puerta Abierta was founded on principles of inclusion and our center is committed to providing EVERY child with a meaningful, quality and loving education. And yet in 2020, I felt challenged with preparing our staff with adequate tools and resources for creating a welcoming environment for Lucas. Our school is located in a rural Mayan village with strong religious and cultural influences. Themes of gender, identity, racism and sexism are just beginning to be acknowledged.

In January of 2021 our school pledged to spend a year exploring themes of gender, identity and inclusion with the intention of nurturing a safe space for children like Lucas. I have discovered that children’s books have been invaluable tools with teachers and students alike, for delving into concepts that are still uncharted in rural communities like Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

After talking with many friends, educators, activists and parents, I have compiled a list of my favorite picture books that connect with concepts of gender, identity and inclusion.

  1. BOW-WOW-MEOW by Blanca Lacasa and illustrated by Gómez is an exceptional book and has captured my heart. Lacasa introduces us to Fabio, a dog who really doesn’t like dog “things.” He doesn’t play fetch or search for bones. He doesn’t bark or hang his tongue out of his mouth when he is tired. Fabio’s family ALWAYS tries to inspire him TO BE a dog, but he simply doesn’t respond. Late one night, Fabio’s family discovers that he sneaks away from the house every evening TO BE a cat! He loves to climb walls, chase mice, play with yarn, and meow in the moonlight. Above all else, Fabio’s family observes that he is happy.

BOW-WOW-MEOW provokes discussion around inclusion, identity and and acceptance. This book is also available in Spanish as NI GUAU NI MIAU.

2. Award-winning Julián is a Mermaid, written and illustrated by Jessica Love, is a gem of a picture book, a story about Julian and his relationship with his abuela.

Jessica Love inspires the reader to explore the importance of being seen, accepted and loved. This book is also available in Spanish as Sirenas.

3. Daniela the Pirate, written by Susanna Isern and illustrated by Gómez, is a favorite at Puerta Abierta Atitlan amongst both teachers and students! We meet Daniela, a brave, courageous, smart, and capable girl who dreams of becoming a pirate on the legendary ship, the Black Croc. However, Capitan Choppylobe doubts that a girl can pass ALL the pirate tests. Could Capitan Choppylobe be inventing new challenges for Daniela, even more than the tests for boys, when he discovers that she is more than accomplished?

And even when Daniela passes the daring pirate trials, will she be accepted by the crew? Daniela the Pirate encourages discussion about gender roles, stereotypes and identity. This book is also available in Spanish as Daniela Pirata.

4. Me llamo Pecas, written and illustrated by Raquel Díaz Reguera, is near and dear to me. Pecas is the youngest sibling of three. She has an older sister and an older brother, and yet, throughout the entire book, we never learn if Pecas is a boy or a girl. In fact, Pecas inspires the reader to question if there truly are “girl” and “boy” activities, clothes, interests, etc. and if so, why? Me llamo Pecas is a powerful story that can be used to generate conversation around and question societal norms, stereotypes, gender and identity. For the moment, this book is only available in Spanish.

While I have discovered a variety of children’s picture books that explore themes of gender, identity and inclusion, the four stories listed above remain my all time favorites! They are approachable, workable in both Spanish and English, gorgeous in both word and illustration, and above all, impactful for both the child and adult reader. At la Puerta Abierta, these four books have opened conversation for our teachers and students, as we continue to learn how to provide safe spaces for all children, including Lucas.

I send a loud shout out to Nube Ocho, a publishing house that specializes in picture books for children and that is committed to values and diversity. Three of the four books on my list were published by Nube Ocho.

Book Fiesta!

Have you heard of Día? El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), commonly known as Día, is a celebration of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. Día, founded by author Pat Mora emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Día is an internationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures. The common goals of all Día programming are to:

  • Celebrate children and connect them to the world of learning through books, stories and libraries.
  • Nurture cognitive and literacy development in ways that honor and embrace a child’s home language and culture.
  • Introduce families to community resources that provide opportunities for learning through multiple literacies.
  • Recognize and respect culture, heritage and language as powerful tools for strengthening families and communities.

April 2021 is Día’s 25th anniversary! There are so many ways to celebrate our appreciation and love for books and children!

At Puerta Abierta Atitlan we have been sharing Book Fiesta, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael Lopez with with our students, staff and community and, as we approach April 30, we will continue to incorporate book appreciation into our school days. Book Fiesta is a delightful story (available in English, Arabic and Spanish) to introduce children and adults to the joy and wonder that books provide! Book Fiesta also contains the history of Día and offers suggestions for creating your own book fiesta!

Title:  Book Fiesta

Author: Pat Mora

Illustrator: Rafael Lopez

Regional focus: The Whole Wide World

Themes: book appreciation, reading, Book Day/Children’s Day

What I love:

  • Rafael Lopez is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. His pictures are vibrant, whimsical and full of joy!
  • Illustrations depict children from across the globe reading in all sorts of real and fantastical environments (under a tree, with a pet, in a submarine or in a hot-air balloon).
  • Pat Mora provides us with an opportunity to celebrate and honor books and the pleasure of reading as we would celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or a birthday.


  • Do you have a favorite book? What is it? What do you most like about this book?
  • Where is your favorite place to read?
  • Describe the party that you would like to host for Book Day/Children’s Day. Remember that there are no limits…use your imagination to design the book fiesta of your dreams.


  • Make your own mini-book. Follow the steps here.
  • Bake a book inspired cake!
  • Write a letter to your favorite author/illustrator and share with them why you LOVE their book.
  • Read a story to a friend (human or animal).

Happy Book Day/Children’s Day! Learn more about the celebration here.

From my window

I love “window” books. Do you?

In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, known as the “mother of” multicultural children’s literature stated, “Books are sometimes windows offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.”

Window books invite us to engage with different worlds and lend us a passport to encounter distinct places, perspectives, circumstances and cultures. Ultimately window books play an important role in cultivating empathy when readers are able to understand or feel what another person is experiencing.

From my Window, an #OWNVOICES picture book written by Otávio Júnior and illustrated by Vanina Starkoff is a literal and figurative windows book. Junior gifts his readers the view from a window of a young child who lives in a favela (neighborhood) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In turn, we experience the joys and challenges, the beauty and struggle, and the daily rhythm of life in a favela.

Title:  From my Window

Publisher: Barefoot Books

Author: Otávio Júnior Illustrator: Vanina Starkoff

Regional focus:  Brazil

Themes: culture, neighborhood, community

What I love:

  1. I love that From my Window is an #OWN VOICES story. Otávio Júnior grew up in Complex do Alameo favela and writes “snapshots” of his childhood memories.
  2. Starkoff’s illustrations are bright and vibrant. One feels the energy of Brazil through her imagery. We see how city life mingles with jungle as the bustling favelas literally back up into lush rainforests.
  3. Otávio Júnior explores complex feelings of living in a neighborhood where there is beauty (music, rainbows, soccer) and hardship (violence) in a way that is approachable for children of all ages.


  1. What do you see from your window?
  2. What does the boy in From my Window see?
  3. How is your view the same or different from the character in From my Window?
  4. What do you notice about the illustrations in the story? How do the colors that the illustrator has chosen make you feel?
  5. Can you identify a moment in the story when the community works together? How do people work together in your community?


  1. Draw a picture with words or illustrations of what you see from your window.
  2. We learn that children often hear Brazilian music in the favela. What music do you here when you walk through your neighborhood?
  3. We see many kites in Otávio’s favela. Learn how to make your own paper kite here.

*I am grateful for the gift of this beautiful book from Barefoot Books in collaboration with Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021, a story that gloriously depicts one of my favorite places in the world, Rio de Janeiro!

2020 Favorites

2020 has been challenging. We’ve had to accept changes in plans, fear of the unknown, losses of all sorts and, separation. This year has also revealed blessings…we’ve slowed down, discovered the tenderness of family,and reconnected with gardens, leafy trails and bird song. Books have marked my year; they have been my greatest companions and my saving grace. I am grateful for a home filled with shelves of beloved novels, picture books, and poetry, and, for sunny spots and cozy corners that invite me to cuddle up with the written word and a cup of tea.

The picture books below have been my 2020 favorite friends:

Hike, Pete Oswald

There is so much to love about Hike…a child-father relationship, experience in nature, POC as protagonists, family traditions, story telling through pictures.


In the cool and quiet early light of morning, a father and child wake up. Today they’re going on a hike. Follow the duo into the mountains as they witness the magic of the wilderness, overcome challenges, and play a small role in the survival of the forest. By the time they return home, they feel alive — and closer than ever — as they document their hike and take their place in family history. In detail-rich panels and textured panoramas, Pete Oswald perfectly paces this nearly wordless adventure, allowing readers to pause for subtle wonders and marvel at the views. A touching tribute to the bond between father and child, with resonant themes for Earth Day, Hike is a breath of fresh air.

Check out Hike connection activities designed by Maureen Schlosser of Library Lessons with Books here.


Layla’s Happiness, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Layla’s Happiness had me smiling from start to finish.


Seven-year-old Layla loves life! So she keeps a happiness book. What is happiness for her? For you?

Spirited and observant, Layla’s a child who’s been given room to grow, making happiness both thoughtful and intimate. It’s her dad talking about growing-up in South Carolina; her mom reading poetry; her best friend Juan, the community garden, and so much more. Written by poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin, this is a story of flourishing within family and community.

Visit story-time at The Carle with literacy educator David Feinstein reading Layla’s Happiness here.


The Boy and the Gorilla, Jackie Azua Kramer

The Boy and the Gorilla is a gorgeous book in both illustrations and text.


A quietly thoughtful story of a young boy struggling with grief, and the imaginary gorilla who helps him find a path to healing.

Find educational resources connected to The Boy and the Gorilla here.


Here and Now, Julia Denos

A book that accompanied me throughout the year, reminding me of the importance of staying present.


A stunning celebration of mindfulness, meditation, and enjoying each moment. This lush picture book is a fantastic tool for engaging children 3-7 who are schooling from home who are eager to feel connected to their world while managing new anxieties.

Enjoy these Here and Now related activities!


Outside In, Deborah Underwood

A treasure of a book that lead me outside even when I felt like hiding inside.

Description:Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.
Rhythmic, powerful language shows us how our world is made and the many ways Outside comes in to help and heal us, and reminds us that we are all part of a much greater universe. Emotive illustrations evoke the beauty, simplicity, and wonder that await us all . . . outside.

Meet Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby (illustrator of Outside In) in a short interview here.

Tell me, what books have been your favorite companions in 2020?

Here’s to a bright and booky New Year!

Harlem’s Little Blackbird

More  now than ever before, I find myself asking, “What can I do to support anti-racism movements and how might I aid in bringing about social change?”

I consider myself to be open-minded, empathetic, kind and just.   My first car, a 1985 maroon Honda Accord that was passed down from my mom to my sister to me when I  finally learned to drive, flashed a Celebrate Diversity  bumper sticker with a rainbow background.  In college, I chose to live in the international dorm at UC Berkeley with students from around the world.  I have been committed to learning a second language as an adult and I seek out cultural events to attend with my family.  For heaven’s sake, I write a blog called Sail Away Story…a celebration of children’s literature from around the world!

And yet, I am aware that I have so much to learn about the complexities and intricacies of white privilege and systematic racism.  I also know that the question above “What can I do?” has a different answer for every individual.

While some may be moved to protest in public places, others may be inspired to write powerful testimonies.  While some may be inclined to lead, others may be motivated to educate or be educated.

What can I do?  What is my calling in the movement of anti-racism and social change?

First and foremost, I acknowledge that I am learning.  I am asking questions.  I am reading articles.  I am listening.  I am accepting that my personal awareness plays a role in a collective awareness.

Second, I accept that as an educator and a parent, I can engage in meaningful action to build a better future for my children and the children in my care.  I can begin to generate social change by:

  1.  Including diverse books in both my home library and school library.
  2.  Reading diverse books to my children and my students.
  3. Creating a safe environment in both my home and my school for children to ask questions about racism and social justice.
  4. Listening deeply to our youth.
  5. Modeling anti-racist behavior for my children.

While I recognize that the road to dismantle  institutional racism is long and rigorous, I know that there are small steps I can take now.

Earlier this week I virtually joined the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives, created by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds and sponsored by The Brown Bookshelf.   Today I ordered a copy of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.  Tomorrow I will read Renee Watson’s, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, The Story of Florence Mills to my daughters.

Perhaps you will join us!


Click on the link above to hear Renée Watson read from and discuss the creation of her book, “Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills,” with third grade students and compare the challenges she faced in her competitive career with those of her real-life protagonist, singer Florence Mills. The program in the Library of Congress Young Readers Center was co-sponsored by the nonprofit literacy organization, EverybodyWinsDC.

*Forward to 13 minutes to hear the story without previous commentary.

Renee Watson asks of white educators, librarians and youth workers to “not only share stories about our pain, but  about our joy too.”  Harlem’s Little Blackbird is Florence Mill’s story told by Renee Watson and illustrated by Christian Robinson.  The book is a  poetic biography about justice, equality, struggle, success and….joy.

Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights.

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Family Discussion:

1. What was Florence passionate about?  What are you passionate about?

2. How would you feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do what you love because of the way you look?

3. What are a few of the examples of racism/discrimination that Florence encountered during her life time?

Racism is  is when a group of people are treated unfairly because of their race. Some groups of people are even treated violently because of the color of their skin.

4.  Have you heard the word racism in conversations recently?  In what context?

5.  What are a few examples of racism that Black Americans face today?

6.  What small or big steps can you take to be anti-racist?

Family Activities:

  • Learn more about Florence Mills here.
  • Make a self portrait of yourself participating in an activity that you are passionate about similar to the portrait of Florence below:


  • Explore the lives of other inspiring Black Americans who have influenced social change by reading their biographies.  A few of my favorite titles include:









Balam, Lluvia y la casa

*Español abajo

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

El post de hoy de Sail Away Story es la quinta edición de “Un pajarito me conto…” en la que presentamos invitados que comparten sobre los libros que les inspiran.

Meet today’s “little bird,” Diana Lopez.  Diana is a children’s literature enthusiast and the mother of two abundantly curious children, Valentina and Ignacio.  She lives in Guatemala City with her children and husband, surrounded by volcanos, lush forrest and books.  Diana believes that books are powerful tools for constructing a better world.  She edits and distributes books, especially those that speak to her heart.

Diana es una entusiasta de la literatura infantil. Es maestra porque naturalmente se convirtió en una al ser mamá de dos chiquitos curiosos: Valentina e Ignacio. Vive en Guatemala con sus hijos y esposo. Los libros para ella son un disfrute y su medio de vida. Cree que son una herramienta para construir un mundo mejor. Edita y distribuye aquellos libros que su corazón le dicta, y que a su juicio sumen a favor de una mejor sociedad.


En sus palabras/In her words:

TÍtulo:  Balam, Lluvia y la casa

Autor:Julio Serrano Echeverría (Guatemala)

Ilustradora: Yolanda Mosquera (España)

Temática: amistad, familia, humor

Themes:  friendship, family, humor


En pocas ocasiones tengo la oportunidad de conocer cual fue la semilla que floreció en la mente del autor para crear una obra hermosa. Esto me sucedió con el libro Balam, Lluvia y la casa. El autor me contó que fue inspirado en los comentarios que recibió en su cuenta de Twitter sobre travesuras secretas de la niñez de sus seguidores. De esa forma, Julio creó poesía con algunos de los recuerdos compartidos y Yolanda, la ilustradora, resonó con los versos, logrando delicadas imágenes que me conectaron con mi niñez.

We rarely have the opportunity to understand the original seed of an idea for a children’s story that eventually blossoms into a book.  However, I had the pleasure of conversing with Julio Serrano Echeverría who shared the inspiration for Balam with me.  After receiving messages from his followers on Twitter about mischievous childhood antics, he created poetry from the collected memories.  With the help of illustrations by Yolanda Mosquera, Echeverría has achieved the creation of delicate images that bring us all back to our youth.

Balam y Lluvia, los protagonistas de estas historias, son hermanos y muy traviesos. Y como los niños, el texto está lleno de humor, ternura y desenfado. Recorrer uno a uno los 17 poemas del libro fue un verdadero gozo. En ellos encontré mis propios recuerdos.

Balam and Lluvia, the protagonists of these poetic stories are mischievous siblings.  Like children, the text is full of humor, tenderness and grit.  Passing through the 17 poems in this book was a true pleasure.  In the stories I found my own childhood memories.

El título del libro nombra a los protagonistas como el centro de atención, pero también deja claro su campo de acción: la casa. El autor logró, a mi juicio, que cada área de la casa dejara de ser una estancia más y se convirtiera en algo vivo. La mayoría de los poemas tienen el nombre de alguna parte de la casa, logrando que este elemento fuera también una especie de protagonista.

The title of the book names the protagonists as the center of attention (Balam and Lluvia), and also highlights the scene of the story: the house.  In my opinion the author achieved transforming each area of the house into a living moment.  The majority of the poems are named after a room in the house, allowing la casa to  also takes on  the role of a main character.

Esta obra la leí “por partes” como si cada poema fuera un elemento independiente. “El patio”, es uno de mis favoritos, la profundidad e inocencia del texto me transporto a lugares de mi niñez que hacía mucho tiempo no visitaba. Otros como “La pared de la cocina” me han hecho reír a más no poder. Uno a uno, los 17 poemas me llevaron a recorrer distintas estancias, me invitaron a darle un nuevo sentido a objetos o lugares cotidianos y más de alguno me recordó a personas que amo y que ya no están. A primera vista el libro es hermoso y cuando conoces su interior descubres que es fantástico. Es de aquellos libros que cuando lo lees, llenan tu corazón de felicidad. No puedo ponerlo en otras palabras.  

I read Balam y Lluvia in segments as if each part was an independent element.  “El patio” is one of my favorites, the profoundness and innocence of the text transported me to places of my childhood that I hadn’t visited for many years.  Others like “La pared de la cocina” evoked uncontrollable laughter.  One by one, the 17 poems invited me to travel in time, to bring new feelings to daily objects and places, and to remember fondly people in my life who I have loved, some who are no longer with me.  At first site, the book is beautiful, and yet when one begins to read the text, the books becomes unforgettable.   Balam y Lluvia is the type of book that will fill your heart with happiness…there’s simply no other way to describe it.


Preguntas para discutir con los lectores del libro:

  1. ¿Cómo es la casa donde vives? Reflexiona sobre los diferentes espacios que podemos habitar. ¿Conoces casas muy diferentes a la tuya? ¿Cómo son esas casas?
  2. Piensa en cómo se compone tu familia, con quienes compartes el espacio donde vives. ¿Tienes hermanos o primos muy cercanos? ¿Quién cuida o cuidaba de ti cuando eras niño? Reflexiona sobre los tipos de familia que existen. ¿Conoces alguna familia muy diferente a la tuya? ¿Cómo es?
  3. ¿Cuál fue tu historia favorita del libro? ¿Por qué? ¿Te recordó algún momento de tu vida?

Discussion questions:

  1.  What is your house like?  Reflect about the different spaces that can be inhabited in your house.  Have you seen houses that are different than yours?  Describe them.
  2. Think about your family.  Who do you live with?  Do you live with extended family?  Who took care of you when you were little?  Reflect about the different types of families that exist.  Can you think of a family that is very different from your own?  How so?
  3. What was your favorite story in Balam y Lluvia?  Why?  Was there a story that brought back a memory for you?

Actividades de conexión con el libro

  1. Reflexiona sobre las situaciones que se viven en una casa. Existen situaciones alegres, divertidas, fastidiosas y tristes. Comenta alguna experiencia que hayas tenido. ¿Has hecho alguna travesura secreta? ¿Puedes contarla? ¿Te animas a dibujarla?
  2. Dibuja tu casa y haz un plano de ella. ¿Cuál es el lugar de tu casa donde suceden más cosas?
  3. Habla con alguno de tus abuelos (o algún adulto mayor), pregúntale como era su casa cuando era niño y que travesuras hacía. ¿Con quienes compartía su casa? ¿Las travesuras han cambiado con el paso del tiempo?

Connection activities:

  1.  Reflect upon the situations that “live”  in a home.  We can find moments of happiness, fun, love, anger and sadness.  Share about a “moment” connected to a feeling that you have had at your home.  Where did the moment occur?  Have you ever done something secretly naughty at home?  Can you tell us?  Can you draw a picture of it?
  2. Draw a picture of your house and make a blueprint sketch of of it.  Identify the area of your house where you spend the most time.
  3. Converse with one of your grandparents (or an elder) and ask how his/her house was when he/she was a child.  Who did he/she share their house with?  Were they naughty sometimes?  How so?

Gracias Diana por compartir con nosotros!  Pueden consiguir el libro de Balam, Lluiva y la casa en MISTUAMANUENSE  en Guatemala  o en Amazon en los EEUU.

Thank you Diana for sharing a story that you love with us!  You can purchase  Balam, Lluvia y la casa at MISTU and  AMANUENSE  in Guatemala  or on Amazon en the United States.


How to Catch a Star/Cómo atrapar una estrella


*Español abajo

Tell me, how are you quarantining/sheltering in place?  Most days I feel as if I am a bird in a nest, huddled in the safety of my home with family.  We have returned to our domestic roots and pass the days making meals, planting seeds, taking naps and telling stories.


This week’s Cuentos en Casa is one of my favorite-all-time stories, a gem for all ages, How to Catch a star,  written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

Cuéntame, ¿Cómo estas pasando el tiempo de cuarentena? La mayoría de los días siento que soy un pájaro en un nido, acurrucado en la seguridad de mi hogar con familia. Hemos regresado a nuestras raíces domesticas y pasamos los días haciendo comida, sembrando semillas, tomando siestas y contando historias.

El cuento en casa de esta semana es Cómo atrapar una estrella, escrito y ilustrado por Oliver Jeffers, sin duda, una de mis cuentos favoritos y una joya para todas las edades.

*Haz un clic en los enlaces abajo para escuchar las historias de Cómo atrapar una estrella en inglés y español.

*Click on the links below  to hear How to Catch a Star in English and Spanish.






Family discussion:

  • Do you remember all of the strategies that the boy used to catch a star?  What were they?
  • What would you do to catch a star?  What materials or tools would you use?
  • Is the star that the boy found at the end of the story the same as the star that he saw in the water?  How do you know?

Discusión familiar:

  • ¿Te acuerdas de todas las cosas que intentó el niño para atrapar una estrella? ¿Las puedes nombrar?
  • ¿Qué harías tú para poder atrapar una estrella? ¿Hubieras necesitado algún material, herramienta u objeto para lograrlo?
  • ¿La estrella que encontró el niño al final de la historia era la misma que había visto en el agua? ¿Por qué?

Family activities:

  • Spend a little time observing the night sky with your family.  Find constellations or create your own.
  • Check out the printable worksheets and crafts that accompany the story created by intheplayroom here.
  • Explore how to make a water-color night sky here.


  • Learn about Oliver Jeffers and view his initial drawings for How to Catch a Star here.

Actividades familiares:

  • Pasar un poco de tiempo observando el cielo nocturno con tu familia. ¿Puedes encontrar constelaciones o crear tus propias?
  • Imprimir las hojas de acompañamiento del cuento Cómo atrapar una estrella aquí.
  • Explorar como hacer un cielo nocturno con acuarelas aquí.
  • Aprender sobre la vida de Oliver Jeffers y ver sus dibujos iniciales de Cómo atrapar una estrella aquí.


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.


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:

Click to access tt_abc_respect_for_families.pdf




“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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


  • 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?


  • 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.