Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Sonia Sotomayor’

En Español Por Favor: My Day at Partners in Print

With the fabulous organizer Patricia Garcia

With the fabulous organizer Patricia Garcia

I spent Saturday at the University Maryland (College Park) with Partners in Print (PNP), an organization under the umbrella of America Reads. PNP supports literacy  at 18 schools, mostly in Prince George County, Maryland, by helping parents – many of whom don’t speak English as their first language – learn how to support their children’s emerging reading skills.  Saturday was the culminating event for the mentors and their students. More than 140 students and 100 parents came for the day-long gathering.

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Tia Isa Wants a Car in Spanish

My role for the day was to read Tia Isa Quiere Un Carro and to speak to volunteers and family attendees in a bilingual presentation.

Confession. It’s always a little strange for me to work bilingually because my English is simply better. I was born here. I studied here. Although we speak Spanish as home, I live about 75 percent of my life in English. That means that sometimes I’m stuck pecking for words or phrases in Spanish, frustrated between what I’m thinking and what I can say.

Turns out this gives me the same problem as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently interviewed by Jorge Ramos of Univision. He noticed her occasional lapses into English, and it was the subject of a lot of Twitter chat. Like the justice, I grew up speaking Spanish at home, and I have no accent when I speak it. Yes, I can read a newspaper and magazine no problem.  I understand everything on Spanish language TV. I consider myself fully bicultural.

Practicing the tongue twisters

Practicing the tongue twisters

But could I read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish and really grasp all the nuances?  Doubtful.  Can I say what I mean with the same skill and confidence that I do in English? Absolutely not.

This will be the same story for the children who attended Partners in Print, most likely.  I remember an NPR story about how young Latinos are shaping the American landscape.  According to the University of California researcher, in most immigrant families, the original language is lost by the third generation. It pains me to admit that’s pretty much how it has happened in my family. My mother, generation one in this country, speaks mostly Spanish. I (generation two) speak Spanish, but I’m better at English. My kids, generation three, speak a sort of hybrid of high school Spanish and the phrases they use with their grandmothers.  I find that loss so painful for a family.  When you can’t speak to your own grandparents, you lose something precious.

All of this was on my mind Saturday.  I felt connected to the parents because they want to do the very best for their kids and give them a good shot at doing well in school, same as good parents everywhere. As I tripped over the phrase in Spanish for pointy tailfins (It’s alerones traseros puntiagudos: a mouthful, people), I thought of them sitting quietly at school meetings, for example.  How frustrating to have more to say than what you can safely say correctly.  It makes you shy, unsure.

As for the kids, these little Generation Two’s, like me, they came from West Africa, India, El Salvador, Guatemala and lots of other places. Already these first and second graders were chatting with me in snappy English skills that are developing nicely.  I’m happy for them. It will make school and success easier.

The cutie pies

The cutie pies

But the question is, how can we keep them literate in two languages, proud in two cultures, and most important, connected to their families through language and story?

It takes a lot of people to pull of the annual event!

It takes a lot of people to pull of the annual event!

That Tía Isa Quiere Un Carro can play a small part is a happy thing for me.

How's this for a gracias card?  Look out Claudio!

How’s this for a gracias card? Look out Claudio!

A Day at Marie Reed Elementary School

Last Thursday, I trekked up to DC to spend a day at Marie Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan.

View from my seat on Amtrak

Four years into my life as a published author and I’ve realized that I’d rather do a thousand school visits than a book signing, which for me are often skimpy on attendance. There’s something about being around little people with no teeth that is much more satisfying.

Marie Reed is a lovely school, if a little oddly appointed. (Partitions offer a reminder of the open education experiment of the 1960s.) Truly, if Christine Reuss, my host, hadn’t been with me, I would never have found my way around. There’s a surprise around every corner. They have a garden that Michelle Obama planted to help them attract butterflies, and they have murals of the late salsa goddess Celia Cruz (¡azucar!) and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. The auditorium is an amphitheater.

What I loved most about this little gem of a school, though, is that it offers both an English only and a dual language curriculum. This seems so much more sensible to me than trying to teach a language in middle school, when we all know that their tongues go thick and their courage, thin. To see an Asian kindergarten student rattling off “Asi Baila Juanito” like a native is about the loveliest thing I can imagine.

I read to the students, told them about how I wrote Tia Isa Wants a Car and Milagros.Then I listened to their songs and dances, and got treated to a writing project where students wrote – in Spanish or English – something they wanted to work hard to achieve – just the way Tia Isa had worked hard to get her car. Counting to big numbers. Reading for a long time. The list was impressive.

But maybe what I will remember most is the part of our day when I asked the kindergarten and first graders where they would go if they could have a car. Chuckie Cheese was a popular choice. Also, the beach. But one little girl came down the steps to where I was standing with my microphone.

“¿Donde quizieras ir en tu carro? Where would you want to go in your car?

“I would go to El Salvador to see my family,” she said. “I miss them.”

I thought of her the whole train ride home.

Meg’s next appearances:  SCBWI Midatlantic Conference, Arlington, VA, Oct.22 

Holladay Elementary School, Henrico, VA, Monday, Oct. 24