La Puerta Abierta

 

Sail Away Story is a celebration of children’s books and innovative schools from  around the world, and while our lists of children’s books and juvenile novels continue to grow, our selection of innovative global schools remains small and incomplete.  I sigh and chuckle…why have I not written about la Puerta Abierta, the school I co-founded in rural Guatemala 12 years ago, the learning center I love and know intimately?   How does one begin to describe a “project” that feels much more like a daughter or a son, a living being that is growing, changing and evolving over time?  How can I find the objective voice in a creation that remains so close to my heart?  How do I wrap a school that I live, breath, experience every day into one short blog post?  I am still not sure, but the glass of wine at my side and the glorious setting sun over Lake Atitlan that meets me at my office window is offering guidance and support on the first night following the first day of school of the 2019 school year.

La Puerta Abierta which now hosts 118 students from preschool through fifth grade has grown into so much more than a school.  It’s a culture, an ambiance, a sentiment.

At the 4th grade parent orientation meeting last week, we shared hopes and dreams for the children of our families.  Words like empathy, humanity, friendship and generosity were bounced between the conversation as if they were common parts of speech.  My heart melted.  I remembered asking parents the same question 8 years ago when we welcomed our first group of students at our center.  The discussion was focused on academic accomplishments.  Parents had dreams of their 4 year olds learning to write, complete math equations and speak English in the duration of a year.  While I was touched by their ambitious scholastic dreams, I understood that a successful early childhood experience would also need to embody creative play, socialization, problem solving, and exploration.

Today I watched with a giant smile as those once preschool students walked confidently into 5th grade and were greeted by an amazing mentor and teacher who is committed to collaborating with them throughout the school year.  I observed our kindergarten class listen with captivation to a story read by their teacher under a tree in the school garden.  I saw Angel, our first autistic student join into the morning meeting in 2nd grade and I witnessed a new group of preschool students begin to play, explore, dream.  I watched Jaunita, the genuine and talented director of la Puerta Abierta, welcome parents with a warm “buenos dias,” as she was simultaneously greeted by new and old students with warm hugs.

Love.  Gratitude.  Kindness.  Creativity.  Compassion.  Ingenuity.  Appreciation.  Acceptance.  Integrity.  These are the ingredients for a dignified education. This is the recipe for la Puerta Abierta.

To learn more, please visit our webpage at www.atitlanabierta.com.

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

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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Caminar

Regional focus:  Guatemala

Author:  Skila Browne

Genre:  juvenile fiction/ prose

Travel to rural Guatemala in 1981 and meet young Carlos who asks the innocent questions about war and conflict as he strives to understand the underlying currents that are dividing his village and country.

What I love:

  • Browne creates an approachable novel for juvenile readers and uses flowing prose to share her story.
  • A coming of age story that teens can connect with.

Themes: responsibility, maturity, survival, loss, war

Discussion:

  • What do you know about war? What does war look like to you?
  • What animal represents Carlos’ nawhal (animal spirit)? What animal would you like to have as your nawhal?
  • Have you ever wished that you were “grown up”? Why?

Connections:

  • Investigate the country of Guatemala and the Maya culture.
  • Write a poem about your own home as Carlos did in his poem “My home.”
  • Santiago Luc is a storyteller in his village. Do you know someone in your life that has stories to tell? Interview the person and write down one of the stories you’re told.