Alma Flor Ada: Author Study

alma floor booksOur little ones have been learning about Alma Flor Ada for our author study. Alma Flor Ada is an award winning author of notable children’s books of poetry, narrative, folklore and non fiction. As an educator, I am a huge fan of her work, especially of her work in promoting immigrant students and parents to recognize how powerful their family stories truly are. Alma Flor Ada, Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco, has devoted her life to advocacy for peace by promoting a pedagogy oriented to personal realization and social jus­tice.

We began our author study by watching parts of this video. After getting a visual of what Alma Flor Ada looks like and sounds like, my little ones had a host of questions. One of them was, “Is she a grandma?” To which another student answered,”Yah, because she has white hair.”

Since Alma Flor has written over 200 books, we narrowed them down to the following:

After the Storm, How the Rainbow Came to Be, The Kite,  In the Cow’s Backyard,

Friend Frog, Jordi’s Star, The Rooser Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding,

The Unicorn of the West, The Three Golden Oranges

I had never read Jordi’s Star, and my heart just fell in love with this story. During our book discussions I asked what had transpired in the story. A student said,”Jordi didn’t notice things (his environment) but when he started to do things just because he started to notice how beautiful things were around him.” What a wonderful book to use to emphasize how important it is to do things with love and to be present and mindful of NOW.

We also did a Reader’s Theater based on the book, After the Storm.

With the help of the Sun and the cooperation of Wind, Clouds, and Rain, a little seed grows up to be a beautiful plant. This story about the cycle of growth also lends itself to discussions of cooperation and interconnectedness.


We performed for our third grade buddies and we will perform for our families our last week of school. The students also made animal masks using left over material from the visual arts room (keep your should pads!). Every student had a line and with much support, they were able to retell this beautiful story. The students noted that Alma Flor Ada’s books had many “juicy words” and her books were often about nature and magical stuff.



The students also got inspired by Alma Flor Ada’s books. This little kinder blew our minds when she wrote this story. This student even wrote on the top – INSPIRED BY ALMA FLOR ADA – How special is this!



We have enjoyed the magic of Alma Flor Ada’s stories.  Again, the hope is for students to see the magic of words, pictures and the sense of belonging to something bigger.

Alma Flor Ada, thank you for your stories. 








Learning About Multiple Perspectives in the Primary Grades


I see chess.

One of the most important elements of being an active reader is understanding that people’s experiences, cultures and family dynamics very much impact our perspective and understanding of life.  In an effort to convey this reading element to my students, I introduced the concept of PERSPECTIVE by reading several picture books. We read, It Looks Like Spilt Milk  by Charles G. Shaw and watched a video version of Zoom by Istvan Banyai. Then students painted half of their blue paper with white paint and folded it together – making for interesting figures. Using their perspective, they wrote what they saw.


I see a butterfly.

The Zoom video really helped bring to life that things aren’t always what they seem. We discussed that having a global perspective means looking at situations from various viewpoints, requires flexibility and an open mind. In my estimation, these skills help create compassionate individuals so as not to always look at situations as black or white, good or bad, or beautiful or ugly.

Most recently, we read the book Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. A little girl walks through her run down community and finds beauty, where most would not. In the beginning of the book she says:

When I look through my window, I see a brick wall.

There is trash in the courtyard and a broken bottle that looks like fallen stars. 

something beautiful picture book

Something Beautiful truly surprised me because it made my heart move with so many emotions, the strongest being hope. At the end of the story, the little girl takes her hope and puts it into action.

I go upstairs and a get a broom and a sponge and some water. I pick up the trash.

I sweep up the glass. I scrub the door very hard.

When DIE disappears, I feel powerful.

Someday I’ll plant flowers in my courtyard. I’ll invite all of my friends to see.

If we are open to changing our perspective and hopeful about creating a better tomorrow – then as this little girl discovers, all is possible.

I’m not really sure if my little ones wholly understood the concept of multiple perspectives. But I’m hopeful that if we keep discussing it, pointing it out via picture books or classroom situations that maybe, just maybe, they too will put hope into action.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016: Hands Around The Library


In celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th, 2016), we read Hands Around The Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya. This powerful story tells of the movement that took place in Egypt in 2011 when people of all ages stood up to protect the great Library of Alexandria. The story is told in first person, making it easier for young children to follow and understand the importance of this protest, in a country where people’s freedoms were not being honored. The story begins…

          Once upon a time, not long ago, many people in Egypt were

          sad and sometimes angry, because they were not free to speak, 

          or vote as they wished, or gather in groups. They knew about 

          freedom, but only from books, or the internet, or whispering inside

          these safe walls of our Alexandria Library. 

The collages by Susan L. Roth are also really creative. They are rich with colors and emotions.


          After reading the story, we made a systems map on why libraries are important. The students had great understanding of the functionality of libraries and made many connections. Some of the comments were that libraries are important because it’s a place for learning and knowledge as well as reading about important people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.

library systems map

Library Systems Map by k/1 Students

We then listed the overarching concepts that were mentioned in the story and discussed how people can change the world for the better. We asked the students,  “What do you stand up for? ” and “How do you make the world better?”  We took pictures of them holding a whiteboard where they wrote what they stand up for. In response to how they make the world better, answers ranged from helping my mom, picking up trash at the beach, feeding the homeless and being nice to my sister. I was really pleased with the depth of understanding my little ones demonstrated and hopeful that our young will continue to carve out a path of peace, freedom and justice for all.

I stand up for…

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The MCCBD team’s mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books*Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

A free copy was sent to me for an honest review and I was not compensated.

Gratitude for Community Yoga: Making yoga accessible to people of color

Candlelight Gratitude Yoga Class at Mary’s Dance Fitness

A year ago I was given the priveledge of starting a community yoga class in Hawthorne, California. A little more than half of the population in this city is Latino and about 28% are African American. When I started practicing yoga almost six years ago, I would go to yoga studios in the beach cities and notice that I was a part of a small minority in the group. Two years ago I decided to get my yoga certification in the hopes of offering yoga classes to people who might not have access to yoga studios.

As stated in the article, Why Your Yoga Class is So White, “a 2009 study in the Journal of Religion and Health found that 63 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Hispanic Americans pray to improve their health. Only 17 and 12 percent, respectively, reported relying on an alternative spiritual practice like meditation or yoga to stay healthy, and almost everyone in that group also prays. In contrast, twice as many white Americans identify with alternative spiritual practices and don’t pray at all.” (July,2014).  In my experience, I have seen many people of color sincerely interested in the practice of yoga. However, many have shared that they felt out of place being in a white studio, the cost of classes were out of their budgets and they felt divided in terms of respecting their religion while learning about yoga.

Mari lighting a gratitude candle – owner of Mary’s Dance Fitness

For the last year, Mary’s Dance Fitness, a zumba studio, has let me have a weekly yoga class. The cost is $5 for an hour class. Patrons have gathered to learn the basics of yoga while flowing to a myriad of Spanish ballads. Classes are typically taught in English, Spanish and Spanglish in an intimate and relaxed setting. The space is not the typical yoga studio with its swanky and cool interior – but it’s enough for one to learn, relax and unwind. Fortunately, some of the yogis who came when we first started this community yoga class have now ventured out to find yoga studios and styles that complement their yoga practice. And that was the goal – for every day folks to learn about yoga and make it their own.

Here are some of the comments shared by yogis whose first experience of yoga has been through this community class:

  • Hatha yoga led me to explore Kundalini and since then practice both daily. Sometimes Kundalini more so than Hatha because of time constraints. I find both practices to be similar in ways but yet slightly different. The kriyas that I’ve learned and practice through Kundalini have been extremely beneficial to my overall health and well being.  -N.L.
  • Community yoga has given me a local and affordable place to practice quieting my mind and syncing with my breath in the company of supportive women. -P.I.
  • I love that I get to clear my mind while getting a great workout. It truly feels like my arms and legs are longer every time I’m done doing yoga. Gradually, I’ve felt more comfortable with the yoga world and even ventured into trying hot yoga and barre yoga. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to your world. -T.V.
  • Community yoga has connected me with my home where I was born and raised. …Yoga brings me home, it brings me peace, and the joy I feel after spending this time with my roots is beyond any other experience. -J.V.
  • I never thought yoga would change my perspective on life as much as it has. Every class I attended offered me the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate my existence. I genuinely love that yoga teaches me to breathe every day. It teaches me to not be afraid of truly feeling. Although sometimes in tears, yoga makes me happy! -J.J.
little yogini

Little yogini lighting a gratitude candle

I am super humbled and grateful to be la maestra de yoga. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a candlelight gratitude yoga class. It was a very soothing class and I felt like the luckiest person in the world because I was surrounded by kind souls that have come together to create community. What I’m really enjoying is how some yogis are bringing their children to yoga – sweetness.

Wishing you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

The purpose of life is to be beautiful, to be bountiful, to be blissful, to be graceful and grateful. What a wonderful English word—grateful. If one is great and full, one is God. And whenever smallness faces you, you should be great. And full. Full of that greatness. 
-Yogi Bhajan 





Love. Same Sex Marriage. Equality.

Celebrating love & equality at SF Pride Parade

Celebrating love & equality at SF Pride Parade

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court voted in a historic ruling in favor of same sex marriage nationwide. I happened to be in San Francisco (my favorite city) at the American Library Association Conference to celebrate my friend’s book recognition at the The International Latino Book Awards.  My friend’s book, Birth of a New J: A Cathartic Memoir, by Julie Guardado, was honored first place for best Ebook. As we walked and celebrated the many wins that took place on this special weekend, I was filled with so much emotion at being present at one of our countries greatest moves towards justice and equality.

I am a big advocate for multicultural and diverse picture books because they give children opportunities to learn about people, cultures, customs and religions that are different from their own. Multicultural picture books open worlds, and begin necessary conversations about tolerance, respect, equality and justice. As a child, I never read multicultural picture books, but I had two parents who spoke to me often about the unfair treatment of others because of race, gender, religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, skin color and education. My parents spoke to me often that through my education I would be able to speak up for individuals who didn’t have a voice.  My parents spoke to me often about the cruel and unfair injustices they faced for being negatively perceived as “poor, lazy, stupid, uneducated immigrants”. My parents spoke to me often that we must always be an example of love, respect, kindness – as this is the way of God.

SF Pride Parade: 5th & Market

SF Pride Parade: 5th & Market

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

-Romans 13:10

It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.

-Harvey Milk

This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.

-Robert G. Ingersoll 

Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.

–Ellen DeGeneres

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.

-Frances Wright

From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests: you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.

-Carl Schurz

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.


Señor Pancho Had a Rancho…cha-cha-cha-cha-cha!


On my last post I joked that I was René Colato Laínez’s groupie.  I am a huge fan of his picture books and use them in my classroom.  Most recently, Señor Pancho Had a Rancho, has been our latest class book/class pet.  I tell my students, “We might not have a class pet, but we have a class book!” Every night a different student takes the book home and reads it with their family. Then, they write and draw about it in the shared class journal.

The story premise is quite universal. There is an English speaking farmer and his neighbor is a Spanish speaking farmer.  The farm animals make different noises – even though they are the same.  This language barrier keeps the farm animals separate until the cows or vacas, both say, Moo! and ¡Muu! 

senor pancho startBecause most of my first graders are native Spanish speakers, they were familiar with the Spanish animal sounds in the story.  Here’s a brief and sweet clip of them singing their hearts out…cha-cha-cha-cha-cha!

At the end, all of the farm animals begin to dance – a universal pass time that brings much joy and happiness to people around the world. My first graders were quick to point out that even though we might look different on the outside, or speak different languages, we are all the same inside; a truth that should be embraced and celebrated.

senor pancho. cows

This book is great fun, with a catchy tune that just makes you want to get up and dance…


MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature & Book Review of “The Peace Bell”

Pinterest collage

I am happy to say that I am part of the amazing group of folks that will be participating in the first Multicultural Children’s Book day on January 27, 2014! A collaborative effort to discover, promote, share and celebrate multicultural children’s books by over sixty bloggers will be giving voice to the countless books that too often go unnoticed.

Last week I received The Peace Bell by Margi Preus in the mail. It was a little book, but as I soon discovered it held a big and powerful message.  As I read it I realized it was based on true events. My first thought was whether or not my first graders would get the gist of this delicate story since it is set in Japan during World War II.  So, prior to reading the story we looked at images of maps, discussed where Japan was in relation to the United States and images of Japanese children and families.

holt, peace bellThe story begins with a grandmother, Yuko, telling her granddaughter and friend, who is visiting from America, the significance of the celebration that they were attending; the return of the “peace bell”.  Yuko recalls her childhood during World War II in Japan when life was not abundant or free from worry. She narrates that as a little girl she would look forward to the bell being rung in the temple during the new year and that it’s vibration would be maintained deep in her heart.  But with the turmoil of war not only were many luxuries cast away, so was the bell.  The bell was taken down and melted for scrap metal for the war efforts.  The feeling of loss is beautifully illustrated by Hideko Takahashi.  Many years later, Yuko goes with hurried anticipation to the celebration of the returned bell that was found and returned by Americans to her hometown in Japan as a gesture of peace and friendship.

After we read the story twice, my first graders generated a list of words to describe these two polar opposite ways of being: peace and war. I was very surprised at how articulate they were in expressing their understanding of these abstract concepts. The following day we read the story for the third time and I asked the students to write whatever they wanted to share. Many of them made a connection with the grandmother in the story saying that their grandmother lives with them at home and helps take care of them.  We also discussed ways to be more peaceful.  My favorite response was, “We can hold hands.”  Well said.

peace:war chart

My favorite part is when the grandma got married because I like kimonos.

My favorite part is when the grandma got married because I like kimonos.

Lastly, I would like to thank Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book /Audrey Press and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom who teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event. If you would like to participate or find more resources please visit:  Multicultural Children’s Book Day. We are hoping that parents, teachers, librarians and bookstores will help bring awareness and more diversity in the books that children are exposed to.  Mrs. Fernandez, our wonderful school librarian has graciously offered to read The Peace Bell to the classes that will be visiting her in the library next week.

I learned war destroys buildings and lives. It takes peace away.

I learned war destroys buildings and lives. It takes peace away.

And to the sponsors who have made this endeavor possible, Thank you!

Wisdom Tales Press
Lee & Low Books
Chronicle Books
Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha  (@grandadmasbaha)

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson