Table of Contents

    Cover Story
  • Free Of Mice and Marginalization

    Authored By Michelle Kenney

    Under pressure from parents, a high school English teacher assigns a classic: Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Her students' reactions lead her to a deeper understanding of what's wrong with "the canon."

  • Features
  • Disabled Education

    Authored By Ruth Colker

    A legal advocate for people with disabilities realizes, through her own son's experiences, the inequities in access, diagnosis, and services for children with special needs.

  • Free Standing Up for Tocarra

    Authored By Tina Owen

    When a homophobic minister preaches about the "sin" of a transgender student at her funeral, a teacher leads her students to focus instead on the beautiful spirit of the young woman they loved.

  • Free The Mystery of the 3 Scary Numbers

    Authored By Bill Bigelow

    A classroom mixer prepares students to study "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math."

  • Teaching Palestine

    An interview with Palestinian educator Ziad Abbas

    Authored By Jody Sokolower

    Drawing on his experience growing up in a refugee camp in the West Bank and his work with youth, Abbas explores connections that bring Palestine to life for students in the United States.

  • Free Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education

    Authored By Stan Karp

    Charter schools began as educator-initiated, local efforts to provide alternative approaches to education. What role are they playing now? And what is the impact on public education?

  • Schools That Change Communities

    Reviewed By David Sobel

    Bob Gliner's film focuses on five schools in very different communities. Together, they provide a view of what is possible when education is grounded in civic engagement.

  • Rethinking Shit

    Excrement and equity

    Authored By Noah Zeichner

    A high school social studies teacher uses videos and frank discussion to lead students in a study of the sanitation crisis in poverty-stricken areas of the world, and the connection to global patterns of wealth and power.

  • Departments Free
  • Clear-Cutting Our Schools

    Authored By The Editors of Rethinking Schools
  • Action Education
  • Justice for Trayvon Martin

    Authored By Jody Sokolower
  • Good Stuff
  • The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos

    Reviewed By Grace Cornell Gonzales
  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos

Every October, I take my kindergarten class on a field trip to the public library in our neighborhood. I make a big deal out of it because I want them to understand just how wonderful it is that there is a place where books—fascinating, beautiful, information-packed books—are freely available to be borrowed and shared. I also want them to know that Spanish, the language we speak in our bilingual classroom and the language that many of my students speak at home, is honored and respected in the library. We browse through Spanish-language books in the children's section, and I ask the librarian to do our story time in Spanish.

When I came across The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos, I realized that I had found the perfect book to read before that field trip, both to introduce my students to the magic of the public library and to open up discussion about how the library is there for the whole community, including their families.

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos is told through the eyes of a young Puerto Rican girl who moves to New York during the Great Depression. Hildamar and her cousin Santiago are not used to the freezing New York winters; they wonder what Christmas will be like in the United States. They are also curious about the big library building they walk by on their way to school, but their aunt says, “We don't speak English, and the people in there don't speak Spanish.”

One day a librarian comes to the children's school and issues an invitation (in Spanish and in English) to come visit the library during winter vacation. This is Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian to be hired, in 1929, by the New York City Public Library system. Belpré instituted bilingual story hours, purchased Spanish-language books, and implemented cultural programs. She was an advocate who helped shape the public library into a community space that valued the Spanish language.

Hildamar and Santiago excitedly inform their family and neighbors: “They speak Spanish in the library!” The neighborhood kids go to story hour and are enchanted by Belpré's puppets, traditional Puerto Rican stories, and her storyteller's candle that you can blow out to make a wish. They volunteer for a play for Día de los Reyes (Three Kings' Day). Their families help with the costumes, the stage, and the celebration, and discover that the library has Spanish-language books for adults, too.

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos is a bilingual book in which the Spanish version is fluid and natural, which is rare. On the downside, the English version does not flow quite so well.

This book tackles an important issue, little addressed in children's books. Because of language and cultural barriers, people who immigrate to the United States often experience public institutions, including the library, as unwelcoming and inaccessible. This wonderful book shows how a community, with the help of a strong advocate, created a space for their language and their cultures in the heart of one of these seemingly forbidding institutions. Author Lucia González is at times a bit heavy-handed delivering her message that “the public library is for everyone,” but it is a very important message indeed.