There are all sorts of ways of launching a new book into the world. This time around I’ve decided to go big. I’ll have my regular launch at the ever-fabulous bbgb tales for kids on March 17. But when The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind pubs next month, I’ll have about 500 high school students to help me celebrate, too.
That’s because they’re part of a project I’m working on in partnership with The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and eight area high schools here in Richmond. The Hope Tree Project is a connection of art, reading, and community building for young people – a good addition to the Virginia Commission of the Art’s Minds Wide Open 2012 celebration of children and the arts.
The students and their art or ESOL teachers have agreed to create Latin American ex votives — or milagros — that symbolize a hope or dream that they have for themselves or for the community. When they’re done, we’ll decorate five crape myrtle trees in the beautiful children’s garden with their collective wishes.
Milagros are part folk art and part religious votives in Latin America. The tiny charms are attached to statues of saints, to the walls of churches, or even to women’s jewelry. Why? To ask for a favor or to thank a saint for help, of course. It’s a connection of the sacred or mystical to every day needs. Not that this is new, of course. The ancient Romans made them, too, as did many cultures across the world.
The hard part of the project won’t be making the milagros. Over the years I’ve spent working in schools, I know that high schoolers have the technical skill to produce some drop-dead gorgeous work. What will tax them, I think, is the question I’ve asked. It’s hard to be 17 and at the beginning of everything. Exciting, sure, but there are so many unknowns. But what I told students at the Steward School yesterday is that putting your wishes out in the world is the first step in making them become a reality. If you don’t make a dream for yourself, others are only too happy to rush in and fill in the vacuum. It’s what my main character, Sonia Ocampo found out. And really, we should all be asking ourselves this question as we chart a path in life.
So folks, I’m giving you a lot of advance notice. Please mark your calendars for Monday, April 30, 2012 at 6 pm for the unveiling at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens where you’ll meet me and some of the artists from the following high schools: Steward School, Huguenot, Meadowbrook, L.C. Bird, Tucker, Hermitage, Henrico, and Lee Davis. (You’ll even be able to add your own milagros to the collection.) The display will continue through July 4, and then selected pieces will move to City Hall for a display during Hispanic Heritage month in September.