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
- 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?
- 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.
- Using different textures of paper, make a mural of the rainforest which shows the different caps of vegetation in the jungle.