Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preschool Reading Around the World: Central and South America

In our third term of preschool this year for First Daughter (age 5) and Second Daughter (age 3), we continued Reading-Around-the-World. (In our first term, we read around Africa. In our second term, we read around Asia.) This term, we read books set in Central America and South America.

As before, my goal is to expand our horizons a little, so I give a preference to books from our library. I'm not trying to impart knowledge of a geographic or political nature; if we learn something of the culture along the way, that's fine. My real goal here is to give my girls exposure to wonderful stories set around the world. I'm sure there are other books that would be just as good or better. Please share any ideas you have! I have younger children who would benefit (no to mention that little picture book problem I have myself).

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown is such a delightful book about a man who takes books by burro to children in rural Colombia on the great blessing it is to read a good book and to share with those who do not have access to libraries like ours.

How Night Came from the Sea: A Story from Brazil by Mary-Joan Gerson and illustrated by Carla Golembe is the story of a Brazilians goddess who longs for darkness and sleep. It was a fine book, but not one of our favorites.

The Two Mountains: An Aztec Legend retold by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher is the legend of the volcanoes in the Valley of Mexico named Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl. I am generally hesitant to share stories of children disobeying their parents, but I really wanted to read about these volcanoes because I lived near them and could even see El Popo from my bedroom window when I lived in Puebla for a language study program. I also liked the illustrations.

The Pot that Juan Built byNancy Andrews-Boebel with pictures by David Diaz is a rhythmic repetitive book based on a real Mexican potter, Juan Quezada. Smaller text on each page gives detailed information on him and the methods he developed to replicate the pottery of an ancient people who had long ago disappeared. Juan Quezada was a dedicated man who persevered and taught others how to better themselves and the world. A section at the end of the book shows how the pottery is made.

Cuckoo: A Mexican Folktale by Lois Ehlert is illustrated in her typical bold and bright style. I enjoyed this folktale and especially liked that the text is shown in both English and Spanish.

Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson is a fun story of a cheeky Guinea Pig who outsmarts a fox but gets caught by the farmer. He manages to escape in the end, though, with a silly story the kids always enjoy.

The Fiesta of The Tortillas by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez (translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco). In this story, the author tells of his youth in El Salvador when his family owned a comedor (a restaurant) in their home. Everyone in the extended family worked together to prepare the food. I selected this book because my sister-in-law is from El Salvador and many of the foods described in the story are ones she has shared with us. It is important to note, for those that worry about such things, that the heart of the tale is a mysterious clapping as of someone preparing tortillas. Eventually, they decide it is the Spirit of the Corn reminding them of the joy of a family working happily together. The text is shown in both Spanish and English.

Erandi's Braids by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a sweet story of a young girl of Patzcuaro who sells her beautiful hair so her mother can buy a fishing net. It's a story of love and sacrifice. dePaola's illustrations for this story are among his best.

So Say the Little Monkeys by Nancy Van Laan with pictures by Yumi Heo is the retelling of a Brazilian tale explaining why a certain type of monkey live in thorny trees even though they must be uncomfortable. It's silly but instructive, with lots of funny sounds. I think the monkey illustrations are so cute.

Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun by Jane Kurtz with woodcuts by David Frampton is a retelling of an Incan folktale in which a young girl shows great compassion and bravery to save her brothers who foolishly attempted to mislead the Sun King.

Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Catherine Stock (one of my new favorite illustrators) is a delightful story of a young girl who accompanies her mother to the market in Haiti, longing to ride in a tap-tap, a brightly decorated bus. My children loved this book, especially First Daughter who begged me to read it again.

Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Petra Mathers is a fun retelling of a Mexican folktale of a little lamb who outsmarts and eventually beats the coyote. (I liked how some of the same tricks appear in this story as in Love and Roast Chicken. It's interesting to think about how myths and legends travel, change, and are adapted by other people.)

I loved this course of study for my girls in preschool. I loved it so much, in fact, that we're going to continue it next year. First we'll read picture books set in Europe, then Australia and New Zealand. In our last term next year, we'll find some books set in Canada, Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. I only have a few books in mind so far; it looks like I'll be checking out a lot from the library to find the right collection. Suggestions welcome!


  1. This is such a cool idea. How, though, did you stumble upon all these books in the first place?

    A neat, multicultural book (although not continent specific) we have this week for "Y" week is "Just Like You: Beautiful Babies Around the World". It is a gentle, repetitive story, and brings in lots of traditions, etc. from various world cultures. You should check it out.

  2. Monica, some of the books are listed on the Mater Amabilis website. Some I already knew about because I'm always on the look-out for good stories about people who are black (since my adopted sister is black) which often fit in the Africa term and people from El Salvador (since my sister-in-law was born there). To fill out the weeks, I searched for the continent and country names on the library website and requested a ton of books then narrowed it down to ones I liked. There are probably others that just didn't come up with my search terms.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Thanks. That makes sense. The library website and list feature is so helpful.
    I also often cross-reference stuff from the library on Amazon, the reviews there are often helpful too.


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