Saturday, February 23, 2013

Three books about discovering reading

In this blog I have often spoken about the importance of reading when we learn a language. I would say more, being able to read and fully understand text is key for cognitive development. But reading should also be a pleasure, and I totally subscribe what Jorge Luis Borges said about it:

"El verbo leer, como el verbo amar y el verbo soñar, no soporta el modo imperativo. Yo siempre les aconsejé a mis estudiantes que si un libro los aburre lo dejen; que no lo lean porque es famoso, que no lean un libro porque es moderno, que no lean un libro porque es antiguo. La lectura debe ser una de las formas de la felicidad y no se puede obligar a nadie a ser feliz".

I'd like to introduce 3 short novels for children by Alfredo Gómez Cerdá that share a common theme: reading opens doors to imagination, adventures and a new future. They also show that reading is a pleasure and, naturally, students should be provided with the tools to enjoy reading.

The three books are set, at least partially,  in a library. What a better place than a library to get the taste of books and stories?

First, let´s talk a bit about the author, Alfredo Gómez Cerdá. He is one of the most prestigious writers in Spanish for children and young adults with over 100 published books in the last 30 years. He has received numerous literary awards for his works, among them the National Award for children´s literature in Spain. He has been included in the prestigious list White Ravens, that every year recommends books from many countries for children and teenagers. His books have been translated to around 15 languages but none in English. He keeps a blog with lots of information on his works:


I met Alfredo in 2009 thanks to Rosa, Valerio´s teacher in the book El Ratón de Laviana. Rosa Serdio is a real person and her enthusiasm for the teaching profession is very authentic. At that time we invited Alfredo to come to Alberta and do some work with students in the Spanish bilingual programs. Alfredo has been working with schools for many years and interacting with young students is one of the parts he likes the best about his job. I remember that I asked him for titles to suggest to the schools prior to his visit and he gave me 12 titles organized by age group. Three of them I am introducing today.
The first suggestion is El Ratón de Laviana. Laviana is a small town in Northern Spain where Rosa Serdio works at an elementary school. One of her students, Valerio, discovers with the help of his teacher, the excitement of reading stories in the local library. Everything goes fine until Valerio meets "el  ratón", who is an avid reader but also a voracious book eater. Valerio needs to find a compromise so both can share the books. The compromise is "un bartolo", a delicious cake from that area in Spain. A book worth reading with students in grades 4-5 in a Spanish bilingual program.


The second title is El Monstruo y la Bibliotecaria. A monster makes his home in a library. The temperature inside is always adequate and he has thousand of books to spend his time with. Soon, he makes friends with the librarian and starts to read for the children. He becomes the heart and soul of the library, along with the librarian. The book is set in Albacete, in La Mancha, the land of Don Quijote. As everybody knows, a magic land where windmills become giants and monsters read for the children in the libraries. One of the activities we can do based on the book is a play with our students, because the story is very theatrical and not difficult to be adapted. In fact, the theatre company Tercero Izquierda Teatro  has developed a play for children called El Monstruo que se coló en la Biblioteca. I would suggest this book for students in the last years of elementary education, grades. 5-6.


The third book is Barro de Medellín, Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil 2009. Camilo is ten and lives in Santo Domingo Savio, a poor neighbourhood in Medellín, Colombia. His father is abusive and spends all the money his wife earns in alcohol. Camilo doesn´t go to school any more and spends his time in the streets with his friend, Andrés. Together they spend their time idling and covering Camilo´s house with mud after every day rain fall. One day, they discover the new library. At the beginning it is just a place to steal books but soon they learn that reading can be exciting and it may open a new future for them. It can be a good book to read with grades 9 or 10 in a bilingual program. The value of reading and the role of the libraries is at the centre of the book but many other themes can be tracked: friendship, poverty and lack of opportunities, decision making  and how the place where we are born and live influences us.


The novel allows many different activities. Two suggestions:
  • The activities provided by the publisher, available in this link.
  • A very interesting activity done by a school. Students have to write what the life of Camilo and Andrés will be like in some years time. The results are very interesting: Colegio Santa Rosa - Altoaragón.

I also find worth mentioning the project inspired by the book. Xandra Uribe is a creative writer and a producer. She has been living in the States for 20 years and she has produced songs, short films and spots. Originally from Colombia, she has kept touch with her home place. After reading the book she contacted the author to adapt the novel into a musical. Now, two young protagonists also find a future through culture, and in this case, dancing.

Three books that, among many other themes, speak about reading, libraries and all the possibilities we encounter when we read a story we like. Three stories that can also open the doors to multiple activities with our students. And if they don´t like them, which I honestly doubt, I will introduce some other possibilities soon.