ReadMe: Let me Help!

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My daughter is at that stage when she actually thinks helping is fun—well, at least most of the times. When we come back from the doing groceries, I usually ask her to help me carry some of the less heavy bags from the garage to the kitchen. Once we’re there, she helps me put away some of the stuff in both the fridge and the pantry. Not only does this make her feel useful—and big—which is great for her self-esteem, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn more vocabulary as she usually has questions about the things she’s putting away or sometimes they remind her of something that happened at, say, preschool.

Sometimes, though, she wants to help and she’s really still too little for some things: carrying her baby brother comes to mind. I think this is one of the reasons she was able to immediately identify with Perico, the main character in award-winning children’s author Alma Flor Ada‘s latest book, Let Me Help!/¡Quiero ayudar! Published by Children’s Book Press, one of our favorite multicultural publishing houses, the bilingual book tells the story of a parrot which belongs to a family who’s in the middle of all the preparations for their Cinco de Mayo celebration. Perico goes around saying, ‘quiero ayudar‘ to each member of the family involved in a different activity, but he is turned away by each one of them.

“I have been always aware of the great joy there is for children when they are allowed to be part of what adults do and the disappointment when they are not allowed to help,” said the author about the internal source of inspiration for the book. “Then, comes the external stimulus. I love the city of San Antonio. In the many occasions I have been fortunate to visit, either to speak at conferences or to give workshops or presentations, I have enjoyed many a nice walk along the river banks. At a given moment, the colorful barges made me think of parrots… and before I knew it, there was the idea for Let Me Help.”

Flor, a pioneer in the field of bilingual education and the author of hundreds of children’s books, writes in both English and Spanish and then translates them or has one of her daughters, who began translating her writing since she was very young, do it for her. Born and raised in Cuba, Flor didn’t learn English until she was a teenager when she chose to spend a summer in the U.S. instead of having a Quinceañera party!

“I consider bilingualism a great asset and feel that all children should be given the benefit of growing with two or more languages,” she said. “For Latino children, whose parents primary language is Spanish, it is essential to maintain and develop the use of Spanish in order that the parent’s role as educator is not eroded.”

According to Flor—who began writing out of her discontent with the books available for her own children—one of her biggest hopes in writing children’s books is that parents use them as opportunities to have fun with their children, to discover ideas and to teach them about important topics.

“I would hope that Latino parents who are fluent in Spanish would choose to read the book in Spanish with their children and to talk about it in Spanish,” she expressed. “But by being in two languages the book offers all opportunities in all cases: a parent can read the book in one language and encourage the child to read it in another,  they can compare and contrast the two texts, and find cognates, words that are very similar in form and meaning in both languages and also discover the differences. The possibilities are endless… in all cases they should be fun and rewarding.”

Here’s the rest of the interview:

As a writer, can you talk about the importance of literacy among the Latino community?

“Literacy is essential for all communities. A child who learns to read well and who reads for pleasure will have higher academic achievement.

Most Latino parents who have immigrated to this country have done so looking for better economic opportunities for themselves and better educational opportunities for their children.

It is important that parents recognize that they are the first and best teacher for their children.”

What do you think about the concept of raising kids bilingual and bicultural?

“Bilingualism is beneficial to brain and soul. It makes us better able to understand new concepts, new realities and people who may have different worldviews than us. It is a personal richness and a good step towards achieving lasting peace. For me, it is primarily a tool to increase my possibilities of being useful to others.

While bilingualism is available to all, biculturalism requires the opportunity to experience a culture different from the societal dominant culture. If at least one of the parents or caretakers is a member of a culture different from the mainstream culture the child will be richer by being exposed to both.”

Why write for children?

“There is something very special about writing for children. They are very honest and sincere in their comments, their likes and dislikes. And, since books meant so much for me when I was a child one of my dreams is that children will also consider my books their good friends.”

How has it been working with Children’s Book Press?

“I got acquainted with Children’ Book Press when they first began publishing books in the late seventies. I was very excited about the prospect of bilingual books that would come directly from the community. It was a pleasure to collaborate correcting the Spanish of some of the early books and translating many of them. I have always been a friend and promoter of Children’s Book Press, including their books in my workshops, courses and writing about children’s literature. It has felt wonderful to become, after so many years, an author of CBP and to find myself in the same list with many dear friends.”

Alma Flor Ada, Pro­fes­sor Emerita at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco, has devoted her life to advo­cacy for peace by pro­mot­ing a ped­a­gogy ori­ented to per­sonal real­iza­tion and social jus­tice. A for­mer Rad­cliffe Scholar at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and Ful­bright Research Scholar she is an inter­na­tion­ally re-known speaker and the author of numer­ous children’s books of poetry, nar­ra­tive, folk­lore and non fic­tion. Her books have received pres­ti­gious awards; among many: Christo­pher Medal (The Gold Coin), Pura Bel­pré Medal (Under the Royal Palms), Once Upon a World (Gath­er­ing the Sun), Par­ents’ Choice Honor (Dear Peter Rab­bit), NCSS and CBC Notable Book (My Name is María Isabel). She is also the author of a book of mem­oirs, Vivir en dos idiomas, two nov­els for adults, En clave de sol and A pesar del amor, and sev­eral pro­fes­sional books for edu­ca­tors, includ­ing A Mag­i­cal Encounter: Latino Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in the Class­room, as well as a wealth of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als. Her work, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with F. Isabel Cam­poy in pro­mot­ing author­ship in stu­dents, teach­ers, and par­ents is the con­tent of their book Authors in the Class­room: A Trans­for­ma­tive Edu­ca­tion Process. Alma Flor Ada has been awarded the Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tion Research Asso­ci­a­tion [AERA] His­panic Issues Award for Research in Ele­men­tary, Sec­ondary and Post­sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion for Bilin­gual Edu­ca­tion [CABE] Life Long Award.

The Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed! Congratulations to our winner – #5 Susan!!!

As part of this month’s ReadMe, one lucky reader will get a copy of Let Me Help!/¡Quiero ayudar! Just share with us how your children like to help around the house, or how you would like them to help.

Giveaway rules.

This giveaway ends at midnight EST on Friday, May 7, 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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