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

“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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