October 28, 2010

Honoring My Parents on El día de los muertos

El día de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on Nov. 2. This Mexican custom of building altars to remember the dead has become a popular celebration at museums in the United States. It’s difficult to fully express my thanks to librarian Sandra Rosales who with staff from Lark Branch Library in McAllen, Texas, created an altar in honor of my parents Estela and Raúl Mora also known in El Paso as Stella and Roy. This altar at the Museum of South Texas in Edinburg displayed their favorite foods including pan dulce (yum!), Mexican sweet bread which we all loved/love. Gracias, gracias, Sandra.

Why did you decide to construct this altar in honor of my parents?
SR: I am the head of the children’s department at the Lark Branch Library in McAllen, Texas and I had just finished recommending your books to a teacher so you came to mind. You are obviously very much alive but I remembered attending a workshop where you spoke so lovingly of your parents. I never thought I would be able contact you much less have you approve the altar for your parents. It was a fantastic day for me and my staff when you so graciously approved. We began to make plans immediately.

Have you constructed such an altar before?
SR: This was the second time that we participated in the Museum of South Texas History’s annual Día de Los Muertos celebration. Last year, we constructed an altar for Roald Dahl. You can’t get anymore non-Hispanic than Roald Dahl but we had fun with it.

Why is constructing these altars an important tradition?
SR: Living in the Rio Grande Valley which is on the Texas Mexico border, I had always known of Día de Los Muertos. However, neither I or my staff had ever participated in the holiday. We learned so much of the traditions associated with altars such as it must contain 3 levels, a bowl of water and wash cloth need to be placed so the dead can clean up after their dusty travel and candles to light their way. I remember going home and asking my mother about my grandparents and sharing memories with my brothers and sisters.

What were some of the topics for the other altars in the exhibit?
SR: There were altars for novelists Octavio Paz and Frida Kahlo. I particularly enjoyed the altars done by family members. One celebrated a young man whose family donated his organs. The family placed organ donor cards on his altar. I saw an elderly widow and her granddaughters standing by the altar in honor of her husband.

What were the challenges of constructing this remembrance?
SR: We had to work hard in order to personalize it. My staff constructed a flower corona with a picture of your parents placed in the middle. We printed up pictures of your family since we knew that your parents would like to be surrounded by family. Once you told us your parents favorite foods, then we made sure that your parents would enjoy their meal on their celestial visit. One of my staff members designed two mini-calaveras representing your parents. She placed a multi colored tutu on your mom’s calavera in honor of the rainbow tulip. Your father’s calavera wore eyeglasses and a suit and tie.

It is our greatest hope that you and your family believe that we have brought honor to your parents.

Here's a photo of Sandra at a recent goodbye party as she moved from a branch to the main library at McAllen. " For my going away party, I told the children that, the whole time, Miss Sandra was really a princess. As a princess, I wore my gown and tiara. It was so cute, I sat in my plastic lawn chair throne and my story time children came up to me with flowers and presents. It was a lovely send off."

October 20, 2010

National Day on Writing

Today is the National Day On Writing. The iniatiative, sponsored by NCTE,  celebrates the importance of writing in our lives and draws attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in. What better day to feature Pat's recent book Zing! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students. In addition to writing about creativity in the form of letters to teachers, Pat talks about her writing process and offers numerous writing prompts and explorations for educators.

Here's a writing prompt from page 96 in Zing! (Corwin, 2010):

" Write a letter to yourself from a place you've visited, focusing on what was different from your daily life and how you felt about that difference."

October 14, 2010

Creativity Interview: Sylvia Vardell

Although April is National Poetry Month, poetry lovers relish poetry throughout the year. A lovely woman who’s a poetry lover and an extremely effective poetry advocate is my friend Sylvia Vardell. Not only does she write inventive books with ideas for sharing poetry, she proposes sessions and conferences to build an audience for poetry. Sylvia is awesome!

SV: What a thrill to be invited to participate in this creativity focus. Thank you!

Am I correct that you invented a poetry tag on-line? How do you create such imaginative projects to excite others about poetry?
SV: Yes, the idea of “Poetry Tag” was mine. I enjoy approaching learning from a “game-like” point of view because I know that children learn from play and I see no reason to stop playing just because we grow up! I try to think of new ways to approach old things and keep it fun and participatory. That’s one of the things I love about poetry, in particular, it is naturally participatory.

Do you speak more than one language and if yes, has that affected your interest in words?
SV: Yes, my parents were German immigrants and my first language was German. We learned English together. I do think this has tuned my ear to be more aware of words and how they sound—which has translated into a real delight in the aural qualities of poetry.

What sessions are you chairing this fall that connect educators to poetry?
SV: I love doing conference presentations, particularly about poetry which lends itself to ORAL presentations, it is a great way to showcase poets (who are not always invited to the party), and injects some variety into the conference docket. I have three coming up in November. First, I’m sharing poetry selections from our university “Librarians’ Choices” project of best 100 books every year. That will be alongside two of my doctoral students and will be at a local conference of early childhood educators.

Then, I’ll be at the biennial YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) symposium in Albuquerque with a wonderful panel of poets that includes Jen Bryant, Ann Burg, Margarita Engle, Betsy Franco, Pat Mora (!), and April Halprin Wayland. We’re trying something different for this audience of teen services librarians—I’ve planned a series of “interview” questions that poets will answer (like “If you were to pair your poetry with music, what music would you choose?”) and then we’ll have time for a “Poetry Improv” exercise where the poets will share poems in response to prompts (i.e., “No one “gets” me” or “My current Facebook status”). It should be fun!

Finally, I have a session at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Orlando along with two fellow poetry bloggers (Tricia Stohr-Hunt and Elaine Magliaro) and 4 poets: Lee Bennett Hopkins, Pat Mora (!), Jame Richards (her FIRST time!), and Marilyn Singer. We three bloggers will be featuring the poets on our blogs for 2 weeks before the conference, inviting reader participation. Then we’ll share the results as well as other strategies for using technology to connect kids with poets and poetry. Finally, we’ll share the conference highlights on our blogs afterward, as well. It’s a new model for conference presentations that I’m excited about and extends the conference for people who can’t be there.

I do think of myself as a creative person, although oddly enough I have no aspirations to write poetry myself. I see my writing ABOUT poetry and my teaching and presentations as legitimate creative acts, too. I like making things— books, blogs-- but to the outside world they may seem like practical products, rather than creative objects. Either way, I love doing it—and that’s the key, right?!


Sylvia is a Professor at Texas Woman's University, an author of professional books on poetry and children's literature, and co-editor of Bookbird, the journal of international children's literature. She blogs at Poetry for Children.

October 7, 2010

This Month's Día Dynamo is Lucia Gonzalez!

I feel so fortunate to be working on Día’s 15th Anniversary plans with my friend Lucia Gonzalez during her year as REFORMA’s President. As you’ll read in her interview, Lucia has been a Día champion for years. She’s not only a wonderful advocate but also a fine storyteller and author.

I. When and how did you become interested in sharing bookjoy?

LG: I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing bookjoy in all the story-hours, family programs, book-talks, and literacy programs I’ve presented in libraries everywhere throughout my career as children’s librarian. I was a children’s librarian at the Hispanic Branch Library of the Miami Dade Public Library System when I hosted my first Día de los niños celebration in 1998. Since then, I’ve never stopped celebrating Día or helping others celebrate Día and share bookjoy. I also share bookjoy through the books I write.

2.How did you first learn about Día and what has been your experience with Día?
LG: I heard about Día through my friend and colleague Oralia Garza de Cortes during the Annual Conference of ALA in 1997. I haven’t stopped celebrating since that year. It has been very gratifying to see Día grow to a national initiative supported by librarians across the nation. In 2003, while working as Youth Services Coordinator for Broward County Libraries, I was able to establish Día as a system-wide, month-long celebration that culminated with a Children’s Reading Festival at the Main Library and three other Regional libraries in the County. Since then, Broward County Libraries continue to celebrate Día each year. In 2007 our celebration was honored with the Mora Award. That year the event was supported with a mini-grant awarded by the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) and Target. Our library system gave away some 3,000 free books.

3.What are your hopes for Día 2011, Día’s 15th Anniversary?
LG: I am lucky to have the honor of serving as REFORMA President during a year of great celebrations when we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of REFORMA. We will have a great Día celebratory program at ALA Annual in New Orleans in June 2011 and at the Fourth REFORMA National Conference (RNC IV) in Denver, Colorado, September 15-18.

4. What helpful tip(s) do you have for those organizing a Día event for the first time?
LG: Celebrating Día is a community event that requires reaching out to as many community groups as possible. A way to guarantee the involvement of parents is to invite the children to present. This can be coordinated with the support of local schools, or by organizing a talent show where children tell stories, do magic shows, dress up in their favorite book character costume, etc. If the children are directly engaged, the parent will come. The top administration of the library, city officials, and prominent members of the community also need to be engaged. Let them know what Día is about and they will support the organizer’s efforts.

Lucia Gonzalez telling stories
5.What is your favorite example of Bookjoy as either a child or an adult?
LG: As a child, I read to my best friend, mi amiguito Jose Manuel, from the only book I owned, a pop-up book Puss in Boots (El gato con botas). My friend was asthmatic and whenever he stayed sick in bed, I went to his house with my book to read it to him and enjoy the magical and luxurious illustrations. When I left Cuba, I gave the book to him to keep it until I came back. Many years passed before I returned to Cuba. We were 26 years old when we saw each other again. He went to see me as soon as he found out I was back and gave me a very special gift, our beautiful book. He kept it all those years, wrapped in cellophane paper, waiting for my return.

As an adult, my greatest bookjoy has been reading to my two children, Anna and Jose Antonio. We cherish all the moments we spent reading together. Now that they are grown, the characters from those stories are part of our lives, common friends.

6. What are you reading now?
LG: I am reading a very beautiful book, a fictional work, about the childhood years of my favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, written by Pam Muñoz Ryan. The dialog and the scenes are very poetic.  I am enjoying it thoroughly.