Bilingual is Better

Have you ever wondered what famous writers were like when they were children? Award-winning author Georgina Lázaro did and decided to not only find out, but to write about it for all our children to know.

Cuándo los grandes eran pequeños is a collection of books in Spanish, pubished by Lectorum, which narrate the childhood of influential writers from all over Latin America and Spain. The series includes Federico Garcia Lorca, José Martí, Pablo Neruda and Julia de Burgos, among others.

Did you know that…?

  • Jorge Luis Borges grew up bilingual. Both English and Spanish were spoken in his household since his paternal grandmother was English.
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz learned how to read at the age of 3 and reading was her life-long passion.
  • Pablo Neruda’s first poem was dedicated to his stepmother, who raised him since he was a baby after his mom died when he was 2 months old. He called her Mamadre.

The idea for this collection came out of Lázaro’s own curiosity.

“When I was a student and had to find information about an important figure, I was always left wondering  about his childhood because the encyclopedias did not have that type information. When I noticed that my son had the same concern I started writing these stories for him (and a little for me, too),” explained Lázaro, who was recently awarded the 2010 Pura Belpré Author Honor Award for Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the books in this series. By the way, this marked the first time a book written in Spanish was awarded this distinguished recognition.

“Oddly enough I wrote in prose and I included painters, musicians and personalities of our history, on top of writers. But when we thought of publishing them I wrote them in verse and I’ve only written about writers, each from a different Spanish-speaking country,” she continued.

The fact that all the books are written in verse is probably one of the most impressive aspects. I love the flow of each story because when I read them, the verses make the stories sound like beautiful songs.

“A lot of people think it’s difficult, but poetry comes much easier to me, it’s more natural, than prose. Maybe because, as a child, my favorite stories to read where those in verse, such as El romance del señor don gato, La ratoncita presumida by Aquiles Nazoa, Los zapaticos de rosa by José Martí, Los peregrinitos by Federico García Lorca and A Margarita by Rubén Darío (who was my favorite) among others,” Lázaro revealed.

I have probably read all of the books in the collection to my daughter, but she still seems too young for them – although she really enjoys the rhythm created by the verses. Maybe they’ll all start making more sense as she gets older and actually starts reading some of the works of these amazing authors herself. In fact, someone recently recommended I check out Pablo Neruda para niños and many of you already know Los zapaticos de rosa by José Martí mentioned above by Lázaro. Maybe I’ll just start by introducing these and then we’ll come back to this inspiring biographies.

After all, Lázaro brings up a good point when she described how parents raising bilingual children can use these collection of books:

“I think my books will not only familiarize them with the beauty, the musicality, the magic of our language, but it will also put them in touch with our traditions and our culture.”

An avid reader herself, the process of researching the early lives of these important Spanish-speaking writers was, in a lot of ways, a time of discovery for Lázaro. When asked if she favors any of them in particular, it’s impossible for her to come up with a single name.

“Each of these books has a reason to be my favorite. Julia because she is Puerto Rican and portrays our Island and part of our history. Juana Inés because I found a great woman who was beyond her time whom I did not really know but for some of her writings. José because I knew some of his verses for children as a child and it was like reconnecting with a childhood friend; so close. Pablo because, although I knew him as an adult and had read almost all his work, when I studied his childhood and I read his poetry, I discovered the child he was in it; I was touched by the man child. Federico García Lorca because, as with José, when I researched him, I not only discovered his childhood but also mine. And Jorge Luis Borges because it was a discovery. I never would have dreamed that he had lived such a beautiful childhood and that so much of it is in his work.”

The last question I asked Lázaro had to do with her decision to become a writer, which interestingly enough, happened later, rather than early on, in her life. I found her answer absolutely inspiring.

“From childhood, I was a passionate reader (still am) and I wanted the same thing for my children because I think that books have contributed to my happiness. I started singing nanas (lullabies) to them, making up and reading stories to them until one day, I started to write for them. That’s why I always said that while I was trying to make my children enthusiastic readers, they made me a writer.”

If you’re anything like me and you love literature, I highly recommend you get your hands in this collection, which by the way, will grow by two in the near future. Lázaro has already finished writing about Gabriel García Márquez and Rubén Darío and as soon as they find illustrators (they have to be from the country of origin of the author’s themselves) for both of them, they’ll go to print. Can’t wait to find out about the childhoods of these other two giants of Spanish literature.


Georgina Lázaro

Georgina Lázaro was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she originally started as a school teacher. She started to write for and about her children and hasn’t stopped since. She is an accomplished children’s author and translator whose list of books include El flamboyán amarillo,  ¡Ya llegan los reyes magos!, La niña y la estrella and El mejor es mi papá. She lives in Ponce and you can find out more about her books and the work she does to bring awareness about the importance of reading to children, teachers and parents alike by going to her own site.

The Giveaway

As part of ReadMe, one lucky reader will get the entire collection of Cuando los grandes eran pequeños. Just share with us how you think these books will help you to raise your bilingual children.

Giveaway rules.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Tuesday, July 20, 2010. Entries/Comments that do not follow the submission guidelines will be invalid and automatically deleted.  Sorry, just need to keep  it fair. Good luck to all!

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