Sundays Are For Spanish: Something Like a Book Review

The Good Food Revolution, written by Will Allen and Charles Wilson, is a book that I read about four or five years ago. The story remains in my mind, however, and has been something of an inspiration to me. Before I discuss the book, I would like to tell a short story (un cuento) about how the book and I came to meet.

At the second university I attended (out of three), I took an intensive writing course in Spanish. It was required for my major: Spanish Education. No problem (no problema), I thought. Well, it was the most difficult class I have ever taken. On the first day of class, our professor, una colombiana, told us that we would not be allowed to speak in English while in the classroom. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

On the second day of class, I, in a somewhat boisterous mood that day, spoke loudly in English. La profesora turned and yelled my name. The classroom fell silent.

“Alexandra!” she said before all. “If you speak in English again, I will take off 20% of your grade.”

I was in shock, as were the rest of the students. I sat, stunned, staring at her with embarassment (vergüenza) and anger (ira). Leaving the classroom, I vowed to speak only Spanish in the class, and to speak Spanish well.

Having studied Spanish, English, and the educational theories of teaching either, I know that many young Spanish speakers have been yelled at and forbidden to speak their own languages in school. Now it had happened to me and I would accept it. A stronger piece of my character decided that I would accept the rebuke and the challenge (reto).

So, I worked very hard and spoke only in Spanish while in that classroom. We learned so much that semester. The class culminated in a six page research paper, due entirely in Spanish. I wrote mine on the topic of motorcycles (motocicletas). I don’t remember the particular grade, but I will never forget what happened on the last day of class.

La profesora approached me in the hallway. We never spoke about the incident on the first day of class but I no longer felt the need to. She recommended I sign up for an Honors class. I was surprised, but thrilled. We had come to respect each other.

Taking the advice of a woman that I had come to regard highly, I signed up for an Honors class the next semester. Her referral got me in. On the list of required texts for the Honors class was The Good Food Revolution. I remember wondering, “What the hell do we need that book for?”

The Honors class was about mentoring others and, as I suspected, had a vague connection to The Good Food Revolution. The author, Will Allen, did mentor others along his way, but his book taught me so much more about taking chances, getting your hands dirty, and bringing people with you on your way to greatness.

Will Allen is a black man from the Wisconsin area. He discusses the connection between black people and farming: how it’s in their bones, how they have always cared for the land. After travelling abroad as a basketball player and later, selling medications as a pharmaceutical rep, Will Allen did something crazy. He quit his job and bought an old greenhouse. From there, he learned to grow food, help urban communities, and bring people together around the garden.

Will Allen experimented in everything from composting, to aquaponics, to vertical farming. After a lot of work in his own community, he and his daughter worked to build community gardens in Chicago and bring fresh food to people that don’t have access to it. He offered workshops in growing vegetables, raising fish, cooking what came from the garden. I believe his lessons are crucial today.

Allen tells his story with grace and includes pictures of his life in the book. The history he tells of black people in this country is tragic, but he offers good food as a solution to the problems of urban living. His moral is entirely uplifting: we can help those that have been oppressed by giving back to them their own skills, and teaching them to feed themselves well.

I have never forgotten this book and, though I don’t think it has much to do with mentoring, I have fallen in love with growing things, saving things, and turning old things into something new. Good food (la comida buena) is important to our success as a community, as Allen demonstrates. We must work hard, but we are inherently equipped to do so.

You may not be very interested in this book. I wasn’t. But, I read it. I fell in love with it. And I never forgot it.

P.S. If you’ve seen this post before that’s because I’ve posted it before. Some or all may have been changed.

Sundays Are For Spanish: My Favorite Book

I love to read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Es mi libro favorito. It’s my favorite book.

I bought this edition many years ago, on vacation. I was already familiar with the story after having watched a movie version of it and finding this edition was thrilling.

I love this book like Cathy loved Heathcliff.

Published in 1847 under the name Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights was found quite strange, as Lucasta Miller writes in her Preface. Indeed, it is a strange story and very difficult to describe, though many have tried, according to Miller.

So as not to give any spoilers I will say only this: Wuthering Heights is about love, betrayal, taboo, death, and misery.

I dare you to give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Te reto leerlo, y dime que piensas.

Some Pages From Some Books

I said that I would dive into my pile of new books by reading The Green Witch. I did glance at a few pages. But other books were calling my name with much more urgency. After settling the children for a nap, I found a place to read and decided to browse a few, rather than working to finish one. Some of the books I chose were new to me, some were comfortable members of my library. These are the pages I was able to read and the bits of information I was able to skim off the top.

First, I read a page on kudzu, from Leaves in Myth, Magic & Medicine by Alice Thoms Vitale. This book has always belonged to my grandmother and, not per her death (she is very much alive), has come to reside at my house, on my coffee table. I have loved (and envied the owner of) this book almost before I was sure of what a book even was.

Kudzu caught my eye in the index. I have always been intrigued by kudzu. Mostly for its name, but also for its reputation. I am from the North, so have never seen, touched, or pondered on the leaf of the invasive, fast-growing vine of the South in person. I have heard many times of kudzu, however, and am sure I have seen it draped along fences and small trees from the passenger seat as we travel the highways of Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas.

I discovered that there are many people, throughout the world, working to use the ‘mile-a-minute’ plant in innovative ways. The leaves are interesting, calming in a way. Now that I know its leaf, I think I would be able to identify it among many others (a personal goal of mine is to be able to identify many plants and trees by the leaf or stem or bark. My great grandmother was able to do this and, though I never met her, I want to know her by learning what she knew).

After the page on kudzu, I picked up the third edition of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. Maria Montessori is another idol of mine so I read anything with her name attached. I attended a private (pretty much the only kind) Montessori school ages 4 to 6 and during that time fell in love with learning and discovery. Montessori developed her own method, materials, and curricula after extensive research, observation, and work in various fields. She was a physician, a feminist, a speaker, a teacher, a writer. She was an incredible woman and I owe my outlook on learning to her hard work and brilliance.

Traditional public schools have many faults, as Lillard argues. The biggest being in their design and overarching view of children and how they learn. I do not agree with their style and have always felt pushed, roped in, or quieted in conventional American schools. My goal for the future is to teach Maria’s way, but I have much to learn. For now, I will simply gather the information that I need and prepare my casa for the bambini to learn in.

But to go to school in a summer morn,

O, it drives all joy away!

Under a cruel eye outworn,

The little ones spend the day

In sighing and dismay

Schoolboy by William Blake

On one of the first pages of Lillard’s book, I encountered this poem that embodies how I came to view school, after being introduced to the public school system in fourth grade (I skipped third grade and I make no motions to brag here. I usually forget this fact of my life and owe it to being taught to love learning, rather than an extraordinary intelligence).

Figure 1.1 The Casa dei Bambini today at the original location, at 58 Via dei Marsi near the University of Rome. Photograph by the author. (page 17 Lillard)

I also found this photo in that book, and was immediately charmed upon finding it. I would love to walk down this street and see where Montessori’s first experiment in teaching her methods took place.

Finally, when I had tired of educating myself, I pulled out a pen and circled (with many wobbly lines) some words in a book of word-finds with the theme of inspirational quotes. My second puzzle was a quote I thought I might share.

He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us,

but simply suggest it with a brief gesture,

a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air

along which we glide until we find ourselves

at the feet of the new truth.

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

I believe it is important to take a break often while studying (I have kids so there’s always a reason to stop) and think about other things. I like to use my hands while I think, and puzzle books always come in handy for decompressing. How strange that the words I circled were so meaningful (at least to me, at that time).

So, I will take Ortega Y Gasset’s advice and leave you on your trajectory. May it lead you to a pile of new books and some kind of new truth.

A Haul of Books

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

This past weekend was an especially relaxing time for me. I visited with family that I have not seen in years. We talked about old memories and did a lot of Saturday Things. Before parting, we exchanged gifts that we had been saving for each other. I was given some books that were sent to me by my younger sister from Minnesota (unfortunately, she stayed behind in the land of lakes).

Everyone that knows me knows that I am a writer. As a writer, I read. I read everything, from every source, good or bad. It hones my craft and I do enjoy it. My dear sister knows just what I like.

If you would like to follow along with me (we don’t actually have to read together, but each of these books are on interesting topics and might interest you as well) try Audible or pick up a hard copy from Amazon.

The book that I am most excited to peruse is The Green Witch. It contains chapters such as “Embrace Your Own Power”, “Attune Yourself to Nature”, and “Become a Natural Healer.” Make what you will of the “Witch” part; I can’t wait to practice.

You can find this hardcover here on Amazon. It’s quite a beautiful book and includes many “exercises” and “blessings.” I hope to share what I learn from this and the other books pictured above. I will have to carve out some time. If I can get a break from playing with the kids, weeding in the garden, putting books away, serving lunch and dinner, catching a TV show, listening to stories from my mother and grandmother, writing a few thoughts….

P.S. If you read, or have read, any of the above, let me know what you think! I get tired of talking to myself. 🙂

How I Promote Bilingual Literacy at Home

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

When I was in college in Minnesota, about five to seven years ago, I majored in Spanish Education with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. During my last semester, in 2015, I fell in love with my now husband and left the state. I was passionate about my studies and loved what I was learning. Now, I live it. Promoting literacy at home is essential in raising strong readers, and bilingual speakers have more success when literacy is valued and practiced in both languages. Literacy is a skill in itself, but for today I want to focus on the little ways you can increase your child’s awareness of and familiarity with letters and words, books and pencils, and whichever combination of languages you choose.

I dropped out of college and don’t have a degree, but I kept many of the textbooks and continue to conduct my own research. I observe my son closely and try new things. This is how I promote reading at any age, and in any two languages.

First of all, we speak two languages at home. We speak two languages in front of our children, to our children, and practice our second languages with our children. We talk about the importance of speaking, writing, and reading in two languages. We turn our Netflix shows on Spanish, watch movies in Spanish, and read to each other in Spanish. One of my favorite authors is Gabriél García Marquez and I let my children see me struggle to read his work in his native tongue. I ask my husband if he understands the vocabulary. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. We are always talking in and about different languages. We find bilingualism and literacy important. Our children listen and hear this.

I like to write and can do so in Spanish because I have a good understanding of the vocabulary and am able to write well in English. My husband, who had a different childhood, does not like to write or read very much. He works hard and has little energy to spend on words. He likes me to read to him and I acquiesce. My preferred way of writing is to use pen and paper. I do this often, writing anything, and Sergio likes to copy me. I give him paper and pencil and he writes as well.

All parents have been told to read to their children. It is important. Reading is fun for children, and requires that you show them how to do it well. Ask questions, make guesses, summarize past plot events, point at the pictures, talk about the title, etc. If you and your family are bilingual, don’t just read in English. Even my husband has begun to read to my son, finding Spanish children’s books in our library one night. Try to ask questions and make guesses in your second language as well. If your level of proficiency at your second language is not high, read anyway, it can only help you, too.

It is also important to show your little ones that you like to read as well. Establish a respect for reading as a valuable past time and skill. Create a library in your home, no matter the size or style, and keep books around you. When a child is curious and plays with a book, they are becoming familiar with pages, letters, and words. They may not know what the writing says, but they begin to understand that it does speak. I often find my son in his room, playing with his books (many of which are from my own childhood), and pretending to read aloud to himself. Reading before bedtime is an important routine that we try hard to follow but it can occur at any time of the day.

Taking trips to the local library is also critical. The library is a good place to find books that may be written in your family’s second language. These books are free, as long as you bring them back! The library also inspires a love and awe of the books lined up all around you. Like-minded families can be found there as well. A bookstore is another great trip to take when your son or daughter is ready for it because the value of money and books can be discussed at once.

Cultural relevancy is important also, so don’t read a book about riding a bike if your little one can barely walk. Don’t read books about crafts if your family is more into outdoor adventures. If you live in the city, read about other people who live in cities. If cooking is a love of the family, peruse cookbooks in either language. It is also a good idea to read books that talk about the culture of your second language: where it’s spoken, who speaks it, how these people live and think.

This book is full of songs native to the Latin-American culture. Its pictures are beautiful.

There are many other ways to promote literacy as well: graphic novels, picture books, some video games (not those that are violent), music, and certainly, art. I love to promote literacy through art: using words and letters as part of the aesthetic. We like to create art around the alphabet, both the English and Spanish version.

Some quick and easy art involving letters.

If you and your little ones would like to start your own library at home, here are some of our favorite English and Spanish books.

I like to have books in hand, but there are ways to download books or listen to them now. If you are still learning Spanish, some of the above books are great for learning vocabulary and practicing comprehension in another language.

Continue to read with your children as they grow, in any language. There are many creative ways to get older children involved, such as book clubs at home, prizes for books read, writing and binding your own book, or creating artwork based on their favorite books. However you choose to promote literacy and include another language in your home, it is an ambitious but worthwhile goal. If one language is more your style, that’s okay too, as long as literacy is valued.