Poetry Friday: The Poetry of Jorge Argueta

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Not long ago, Corinne did a post on a children’s poetry festival in El Salvador.  The post piqued my interest in one of the hosts of the event,  poet Jorge Argueta,  whose books I immediately requested from the library.  As is my usual custom, I take out several books by the same author — as many as are available — and as a result, my daughter and I enjoyed a wonderful night of Argueta’s poetry and stories.  The two poetry books of Argueta’s I was able to read were:  Trees are Hanging from the Sky (illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, published by Groundwood, 2003) and A Movie in My Pillow (illustrated by Elizabeth Gomez, Children’s Book Press, 2001).   The first book was a little hard for my daughter to understand conceptually.  How was it that trees could hang from the sky?  She queried.   And their roots be like snakes?  But once she saw the illustrations, she understood.  I liked the ideas as sheer poetic inversion — it seemed marvelous to me, the idea of trees being rooted in the sky, rather than on earth!

A Movie in My Pillow is a bilingual book and contains short poems in Spanish and English.  In this book, the poems are more straightforward contemplations of the life of an El Salvadoran boy in San Francisco.   My daughter enjoyed this book very much and in fact, wanted to read the poems in English while I read the Spanish (which unfortunately I don’t know very well, but had fun trying to read aloud!)  After the book was done, she said she liked this poetry book a lot.  It was one of the few poetry books I’ve read that she was truly engaged in.

PaperTigers has done an interview with Jorge Argueta.  You might check it out along with his books for a wonderful treat of words!  I do hope his endeavours with the first ever children’s poetry festival in El Salvador go well.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes.

Librarians at Bologna – Part 1: Books as Mirrors

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Continuing with our current literacy focus, and thinking towards World Literacy Day on September 8th, this is the first of three posts focusing on and beyond a session at this year’s Bologna Book Fair…

In my first post following our return from the Bologna Book Fair, I highlighted the session organised by the IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions). The session was organised by the Netherlands Public Library Association and they called it “Invitation to JES: Join – Enjoy – Share”. Despite not being librarians, Aline and I were made very welcome and we really enjoyed chatting to the librarians afterwards. In fact, the various informal discussions got so lively that we were asked to keep the noise down – well, makes a change! As well as our Dutch hosts, there were children’s librarians there from all over the world: Australia, Colombia, Croatia, France, Italy, Japan, Senegal and Tanzania. The atmosphere was buzzing!

We had two speakers: the first, Patsy Aldana, the current president of IBBY, gave us a fascinating talk entitled “Books as Mirrors” in which she traced the history of multicultural book publishing in her home-country, Canada, where her own Groundwood Books has been so ground-breaking (for more on multiculturalism in Canadian publishing, see here). Her childhood in Guatemala without books to mirror her own experiences, mean that she also has a personal affinity to the world of multicultural books. It had been a very painful struggle, she said, to define the role of the writer: who could write legitimately about what? Those white people who had been the only published writers of books under the multicultural umbrella would ask, “Why can’t I write whatever I want? Who are you to tell me not to write about your experience?” and were being asked “What right do you have to steal my story – the world you’re describing is not real”.

This situation is now much resolved in Canada but there are still real concerns. “Children need books that are windows and books that are mirrors,” she said: and unfortunately there is uneven access for children to these kinds of books. What happens to children who never see themselves in the books they read; and one step further, what happens when children are not taught to read in their own language? It is an enormous disincentive to the desire to read. She pointed to the work of some “fabulous” small publishers from all over the world and urged us to visit their stands at the fair – such as Tara Books from India, Ekeré from Venezuela, and Editions Bakamé from Rwanda, (which shared this year’s IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award). Small publishers need our support because so often it is their books which give “that flash of recognition – That is me!”

Citing the example of an Iranian librarian in Sweden who is able to ensure that children of Iranian background can access books attuned to their experience and outlook, Patsy concluded by saying that librarians are the people who can be relied on to bring books to children. Librarians can insist on quality – for without quality it is hard to foster a love of reading and provide the key to the mirror/window.

I think there’s plenty to chew on there and I will post about the second speaker in Part 2!