Islandborn

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Junot Diaz

Illustrator: Leo Espinosa

Genre:  children’s literature

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

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

What I love:

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

Themes: memory, origin, family history, immigration

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Nine O’ Clock Lullaby

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

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author:  Marilyn Singer

Illustrator: Frane Lessac

Genre:  children’s literature

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

What I love:

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

Themes: world exploration, time zones, culture

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Wangari’s Trees of Peace

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

Regional focus:  Kenya

Author:  Jeanette Winter

Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

Genre:  children’s literature, biography

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

What I love:

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

Themes: environmental education, women leaders, bravery

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

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The Wheels on the Bus

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

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  The Amador Family

Illustrator: Melanie Williamson

Genre:  Children’s literature

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

What I love:

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

Themes:

Transportation, family, journey, community

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Recipe (8 tortillas):

1 cup of masa (corn flour)

2/3 cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

The Golden Rule

When I read the current events of our world, I often feel overwhelmed by the challenges facing us as a global community. As an early childhood educator, I wonder, “what if our world leaders were required to return to kindergarten and learn the empathy basics, like The Golden Rule?” I don’t mean to simplify politics and struggles that run deep in history, but what if… Today I celebrate a timeless world classic about one simple rule.

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author:  Ilene Cooper

Illustrator: Gabi Swiatkowska

Genre:  Children’s literature

This book is a gentle reminder of a timeless rule for parent and child, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Everyone knows a version of the Golden Rule. But what does it really mean? And how do you follow it? In this simple yet profound book, a grandfather explains to his grandson that the Golden Rule means you “treat people the way you would like to be treated. It’s golden because it’s so valuable, and a way of living your life that’s so simple, it shines.” Though it may be a simple rule, it isn’t easy to follow. Fortunately, following the Golden Rule is something everyone can do, which means that every person-old or young, rich or poor-can be a part of making the world a better place.

What I love:

  • The book has gorgeous and intriguing illustrations.
  • The book uses child appropriate language and stories to explore a challenging theme.
  • The story is a useful teaching tool for teachers with diverse student groups.
  • The Golden Rule can be used as a powerful introduction to exploring delicate current world events.

Themes: values, world culture, compassion, empathy

Discussion:

  • In your own words, describe the golden rule.
  • Have you recently practiced the golden rule? When? Why?
  • Have you recently seen an adult practicing the golden role? Who? When?  Why?

Connections:

  • Make a collage using recycled newspapers and magazines of people practicing the golden rule.
  • Ask adult friends to share world stories from history of people practicing the golden rule.
  • Create a play/theater of characters practicing the golden rule.