Nochecita–Little Night

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Yuyi Morales

Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Genre:  children’s literature

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

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

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

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

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

What I love:

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

Themes: family, rituals, the night sky

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

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“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth

Regional focus:  Amazon

Author:  Eric Carle

Illustrator: Eric Carle

Genre:  children’s literature

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

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

What I love:

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

Themes: mindfulness, the Amazon, slow living, acceptance

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

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Number the Stars

Lois Lowry is one of my favorite authors in the genre of young adult literature.  Surprisingly, I only discovered her writing as an almost 40 year old.  If you haven’t read The Giver, I suggest that you add the title to your summer reading list.  Lowry has a gift for writing stories that are both profound and approachable for her audience.  

I was overjoyed when my 11-year-old daughter, Emma, was assigned to read Number the Stars with her 5th grade class.  Emma and I don’t always agree on the same books, but we both found ourselves looking forward to our evening ritual of reading this story to each other.  

Regional focus:  Denmark

Author:  Lois Lowry

Genre:  juvenile historical fiction

In Number the Stars we travel in time to 1943, Denmark, where we meet the Johansen family and the Rosen family.  The two families share many similarities.  The mothers are companions and often drink afternoon tea together, the families live in the same apartment building and ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and 10-year-old Ellen Rosen are best friends and classmates.  As the  antisemitism of World War II spreads through Europe,  the Rosen family is targeted by the Nazi’s.  When Mr. Rosen suspects that his family will be “relocated,” The Johansen’s quickly receive Ellen as one of their own.

Throughout the story, the reader continues to meet characters who demonstrate bravery and courage.  We are confronted with asking ourselves, “what would I do?”

More than a story of individual courage displayed by Annemarie, we learn of the courage of a country.  We discover that during the war, the resistance movement in Denmark was successful in smuggling nearly their entire Jewish population, some 7,000 people, across the sea to Sweden.

What I love:

  • Lowry educates us about the history of World War II while creating personal connections with main characters.
  • A story that highlights everyday heroes.
  • Number the Stars reminds us of “the power of one.”

Themes: bravery, courage, empathy, war, memory, hope, friendship

Discussion:

  • How  is friendship displayed between Ellen and Annemarie?
  • What are a few acts of bravery and courage that are identified in the book?
  • Remember a time when you had to be courageous and stand up for somebody else.  What happened?
  • Throughout the story, different characters tell lies to protect the lives of others.  Generally we are taught that lying is dishonest.  Do you believe this is always the case?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • In Number the Stars we learn that many Jews are forced to immigrate or become refuges in new countries.  Investigate groups of people who are currently facing similar circumstances.  Who are they?  Why are they unable to stay in their country of origin?  Where are they fleeing to?
  • Make a new book cover for Number the Stars.    What important elements or symbols would you include in the cover art?
  • Imagine that you are living during a time of war when every day products are hard to purchase.  We learn that coffee, shoes and tobacco are difficult to purchase in Annemarie’s town during the war. Make a list of every day items that you would miss if you lived in a time of rationing.
  • If you were able to invite a character from Number the Stars to your house for lunch, who would you choose?  Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask the invitee.

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Islandborn

Regional focus:  The Dominican Republic

Author:  Junot Diaz

Illustrator: Leo Espinosa

Genre:  children’s literature

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

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

What I love:

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

Themes: memory, origin, family history, immigration

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Nine O’ Clock Lullaby

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

Regional focus:  The Whole Wide World

Author:  Marilyn Singer

Illustrator: Frane Lessac

Genre:  children’s literature

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

What I love:

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

Themes: world exploration, time zones, culture

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Wangari’s Trees of Peace

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

Regional focus:  Kenya

Author:  Jeanette Winter

Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

Genre:  children’s literature, biography

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

What I love:

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

Themes: environmental education, women leaders, bravery

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

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The Wheels on the Bus

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

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  The Amador Family

Illustrator: Melanie Williamson

Genre:  Children’s literature

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

What I love:

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

Themes:

Transportation, family, journey, community

Discussion:

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

Connections:

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

Recipe (8 tortillas):

1 cup of masa (corn flour)

2/3 cup water

1/8 teaspoon salt

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

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