Skip To Main Content
The Gordon School

Like a puppy chewing on a bone

Readers, writers and Julia Alvarez

The librarians were sorting through a large order of books.
Can you believe Edwidge Dandicat turned this book around in... has it even been a year since the earthquake?
Rosemary Wells does nonfiction?
Maybe they don't have to use that maroon cover now that he's dead.
These were books for families to 'buy' for the library at this week's book fair.

Donors covered the cost of a new book and got a chance to honor someone on the bookplate.

One popular book that is not in the library, or at the book fair, is Sheila Hamanaka's I Look Like a Girl.
A copy of this out-of-print picture book fetches upwards of $300.
So the third grade teachers shared one copy of it this week.
The students were just as happy to create their own versions, anyway.

The book offered a way to talk about gender stereotypes.
It also offered a way to stretch their use of symbolic expression, through writing and drawing.
The hook for the students, of course, was that the book showed them a new way to tell their own stories.
Later that day, these students heard author Julia Alvarez confirm: 'The best way to become a good writer is to be a good reader.'
Ms. Alvarez was at Gordon as the fourth annual Karla Harry Visiting Author.
She showed herself to be an extraordinary storyteller and teacher.
The students had prepared questions, written on index cards.

The index cards never came out, though, as the conversation flowed easily.
A sample question: how did you research your novel Return to Sender?
In a conversational, often hilarious way, her answer included an outline of how price subsidies in the US undermined the corn market in Mexico, sending farmers north in search of work, as far as Vermont's dairy farms.
That economics lesson, in turn, was mere background as she explained how she, a professor at Middlebury College, an institution renowned for international studies, ended up called to a hospital in rural Vermont to serve as translator while a Mexican woman she had never met gave birth.
Along the way, she addressed the question that had come up at every grade level: a Latina? living in Vermont? really?
By way of a response, she presented a vision of an increasingly global culture, in which Harry Potter films are critiqued in villages that do not have electricity, Cape Cod architecture appears in Chiapan villages and Dominican tias become heroes to children who don't speak a word of Spanish.
This cultural shift, she explained, allowed her to become a writer, sharing stories which, in Dominican culture, would be kept inter familia.
They are still inter familia, she said, but now I am sharing them with a human family, across the world.

Learn to recognize your own stories, she urged the students.
Read, listen, devour all of the tales that you can find.
Then look to see which stories are missing.
Those will be the ones that only you can tell.

New on the blog

¡Claro que!

Eighth grade Spanish plays with identity and with verb tense