Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Trekking Toward Education

In some homes if you, as a child, dare to complain about having to go to school, you receive the mantra of having one or both parents relating their trials in getting to school as a child.  It seems they had to walk miles through extreme weather conditions or over extreme terrain or arrived at their destination by enduring extreme modes of transportation.  This is meant to remind you of how trivial your objections are in light of their difficulties.  It is also a suggestion to be more grateful for the opportunities to be enjoyed each day in your classrooms.

While some of the adults' stories about getting to school are certainly exaggerated; others have a ring of truth.  Adventures To School: Real-Life Journeys Of Students From Around The World (Little Bee Books, May 1, 2018) written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Isabel Munoz brings to light documented cases of students taking risks and enduring unusual circumstances to get an education.  In learning about their stories we gain a greater understanding of the countries in which they take place.

Ustupu, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
It's just after midnight when I wake up.  There are so many stars in the sky!

You might be thinking this is a typical scenario for anyone, anywhere, excited or anxious about going to school but this student is up this early to ride in a small boat with her parents.  They will make a six hour trip to her school across rough water.  She and her mother will stay with a host family.  Across the ocean on the continent of Africa, a girl carries her sister on her back as she makes her way to school. She is barefoot navigating through garbage and mud and safely past strangers and guards.  It is 2am.

Back in South America in the country of Bolivia a young student rides a teleferico, a car thirteen thousand feet above sea level, powered by electricity.  A fear of heights might make this a tricky trip to school!  Have you ever heard of the heaven ladder located in China?  Children go over a cliff and climb down the side of a vertical rock wall to reach the bottom. Thankfully, they do not need to do this each day. 

Running for almost a mile and a half to avoid elephants is not a usual way to begin a school day but for students in Kenya, it is.  A tiny carriage moves along a wire bridge over a river in Nepal.  A brave brother sings to comfort a frightened sister.  Another brave duo, a grandmother and her granddaughter quietly walk the street to her school building after a night of fighting in Donetsk, Ukraine.  Glass from broken windows is swept away by teachers.

A ride on a crowded subway car in Japan does not deter a little child.  Wearing a yellow flag is a signal for adults to help him if he gets in trouble.  Three hour walks in all kinds of weather or an early morning horse ride to catch a bus are customary for students in two other countries.  These children and those with parents realize the value and power in having an education.

In an authors' note prior to the beginning of the book, we are told each of these thirteen stories are a composite of real individuals.  For this title the names of the children are fiction.  The authors also explain the diversity within each place, its people and their customs and culture.  Both Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul combine their talents to write compelling, truthful episodes in the lives of these children.

Using a first person voice for the children creates an immediate connection with us.  On the page opposite each child's tale is information about their country.  The authors chose points of interest most likely unknown by most readers.  Here are portions of two passages.

El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia
Artists are painting a new mural as I enter the station.  I walk up many stairs, take out my tarjeta, and wait in line.  A worker waves me into the moving car.  I slide to the far window, and other passengers join me.  The doors close, and the busy noise of the city disappears.  I feel a little dizzy when the teleferico moves quickly, but the ride is smooth.  It's like we are flying!

An electric-powered teleferico (with solar-powered Wi-Fi) operates at thirteen thousand feet above sea level, connecting the mountainous cities.  It has transported more than forty million passengers since it opened in 2014.  Over three thousand students ride the cable car every day at a discounted fare that is equivalent of less than twenty-five cents.   

Day after day when many students ride the familiar yellow school bus to their classrooms I wonder how many of them would feel about riding the modes of transportation featured on the front and back of the opened, matching dust jacket and book case.  Would they like to ride thousands of feet in the air over their city?  To the left, on the back, framing text in a series of panels, eight other forms of travel are featured.  The illustrations fashioned by Isabel Munoz, for the jacket and case, while in all color, feature the primary colors heavily, relying on this appeal for the intended audience.

The opening and closing endpapers are an intricate, delicate pattern of pencils, crayons, paper clips, and push pins amid tiny leaves and teeny lady bugs.  The design on the back of the jacket and case frames the text on the title page.  Each two page picture provides an intimate, true-to-life and moving testament to the words of the child and the facts on each place. 

We see dedicated and loving parents rowing a canoe carrying their sleeping child across winter waters.  We see a girl carrying her sister on her back as she carefully moves through a metal fence, avoiding trash and dirt.  We see children climbing down a steep, steep wall on precarious ladders. 

For each of these images, Isabel Munoz gives us a perspective which will involve us in the journey.  Sometimes we are close to the travelers and other times we are given a larger view for greater impact.  She helps us to understand what these children endure to receive an education.  A single small illustration and the country's flag are showcased on each page.

One of my many favorite illustrations takes place in Meru and Samburu, Kenya.  It is a bird's eye view of the village.  Isabel Munoz gives the land a barren look with little vegetation.  It is shades of cream with bits of green.  In the far right-hand corner is a partial view of a damaged home.  Large elephant tracks are visible in the dirt from left to right.  Seven children are hurrying to school, anxious to avoid the elephants.  Most of their backs are to us.  One child is turned, possibly to tell the one farthest back to walk faster.  All but the smallest of the children leave their own footprints in the dirt.

Without a doubt Adventures To School: Real-Life Journeys Of Students From Around The World written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Isabel Munoz will generate much discussion if not outright gasps during a read aloud.  The blend of true stories, factual accounts, and the details about each country are sure to promote further research.  A lengthy bibliography is included at the book's end.  A full bibliography is at the publisher's website.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul and Isabel Munoz and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At a publisher's website you can view interior pictures.  Here is a link to an educator's resource guide.  At their publisher's blog Miranda and Paul chat about this title.  Maria Marshall interviews the Pauls about this title.  Isabel Munoz has an Instagram account.  Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul and Isabel Munoz are all on Twitter.

To learn about the other titles selected by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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