The Belonging System: A glimpse into the places where children feel they belong.


In Social Studies, we are continuing our learning on Families & Homes. We have spent the beginning of the school year exploring the various ways families come to be. Some family members are born into their families and other are made with love and appreciation. We have concluded that families are formed through friendships, school communities, religious places like churches or synagogues, work, school and travels.

We are beginning our investigations on where families live and the types of places that can be considered home. We will discuss the types of homes people live in, in our communities and around the world. To start this conversation, we read the gorgeous picture book, You Belong Here, written by M.H. Clark and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. This book takes the reader on a lyrical journey of where plants, animals and children belong.

And the trees belong in the wild wood and the deer belong in their shade,

and the birds belong so safe and good and warm in the nests that they’ve made.


After we read this book, we brainstormed the various places where we belong. We explained that belonging can be attached to a physical place like one’s home or favorite park. We can also belong to ideas, or places that make our hearts sing, nourish our souls, and ground us. I shared that I belong to words and writing, picture books, and my yoga corner. Using a systems map we asked, “Where do you belong?”  Our littles shared many interesting and heartfelt places of belonging.

belonging system.jpg

As a follow up activity, our little ones wrote a book where they chose five places using the sentence starter: I belong in / I belong with__________________.

Here are some of the wonderful places where we belong. It was also noted that no matter where we come from, there is always a place where we belong.



If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.

– Mother Theresa


The LA Latino Book & Family Festival – Great Books, Humble Souls

Victor Villaseñor getting read to sign his books.

          Victor Villaseñor getting read to sign his books.

The Los Angeles Latino Book and Family Festival took place yesterday at East Los Angeles College. Even though the weather was chilly by LA standards, many came to check out this fantastic cultural and family event.  I was excited to partake in a Q&A session with noteworthy children’s authors, René Colato Laínez and James Luna, as well as other indie authors like myself.

René Colato Laínez shared he was celebrating ten successful years as a published children’s author. I’ve read many of his picture books and I use them often in my classroom. I even bought a copy of his latest, Señor Pancho Had a Rancho, a fun twist on Old McDonald Had A Farm with a Latino flair.

rene colato books

               Books Written by René Colato Laínez

James Luna has written two picture books and both have been well received.  The Runaway Piggy also received the Tejas Star Book Award – Wow!  The coolest thing about meeting these two successful children’s authors is that they are both teachers and have over 20 years of teaching experience. Imagine how amazing it must be to be a student in their classrooms. I would love to be a fly on the wall to see how they motivate their students during Writer’s Workshop.

runaway piggy

After the Q & A I got to sell and sign alongside these two gentlemen.  The author sitting to the left of me, Juan Villegas, shared that he couldn’t believe he was sitting next to the Victor Villaseñor, a Mexican-American writer, best known for the New York Times bestseller novel Rain of Gold. I giggled because I understood what he meant. Juan and I looked at the super long line of fans waiting to meet and have their book signed by Victor Villaseñor because we were more than happy to sell a few books.  And in just one hour Victor Villaseñor sold out boxes and boxes of books. I then discreetly pointed to René and James who were sitting to the right of me and said, “I hear you. Those two are the real deal in Latino Children’s Publishing.”

Malín Alegría, James Luna, René Colato Laínez

            Malín Alegría, James Luna, René Colato Laínez

I also had the pleasure of meeting Malín Alegría, an established Latina YA author who’s written a bunch of books as well – like the Border Town series.  And while we newbies sat amidst these established and recognized authors, I noticed how humble and unassuming they all were. They didn’t once mention any of the accolades their books had received. They didn’t bring an entourage or display a lavish signing area. It was just them, their books and a pen for signing. But what they did bring to the book festival was an ernest desire to encourage others about the power of telling one’s own story, of writing it and sharing it.

Daring to Dream: Submitting manuscripts for the love of a picture book

At the post office mailing my picture book submission.

At the post office mailing my picture book submissions

Right now I’m feeling pretty accomplished. I finally sent out my picture book manuscript to potential publishers. Yahoo! I wrote this particular story two years ago. At first it sat quietly on my computer hard drive, but in more recent months the words of this story literally begged for me to take another look.  I reread the story and the words filled my head throughout the day while I was at work.  When I jogged the main character came alive and painted a canvas for me to see what this picture book could possibly look like.  I shared it with some loved ones and when they smiled while they read it my heart sank because that meant only one thing, it was time.  I love to write. It’s fun, it’s fulfilling and sometimes the characters I write about come to life and fill my dreams. Truman Capote said, “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” This picture book cannot wait to share its music with others.

I promised the little girl in this story that I would see to finding a way for her music to be heard during my Christmas break.  The first week of vacation flew by as I obsessed with cleaning my house, especially the parts that I never get to. This week I have been preoccupied with getting the house ready for Christmas. Yesterday evening this story was banging its drums and blowing its trumpets. I couldn’t believe that I had yet to check this task off my TO DO list.  I had already started to research potential publishers but it was a just a matter of sitting down, getting in the zone and making it happen.  I felt the presence of this little girl as she cheered me on, especially when my tired eyes could no longer read the fine print on the computer screen and my back ached from sitting for hours.  I got up and stretched, did a few sun salutations and said another prayer. I thought of the thousands of writers who were also awake all night, getting their submission packets ready and felt overwhelmed.  I walked to my bathroom where every morning I am greeted by this message:

The perfect message when I was ready to quit

I smiled and saw how fitting this message was as I felt like quitting.  It just so happened that my family spent the night at my house on Christmas Eve. The next morning, my 8 year old niece said, “Tita, I like that message. I have lots of dreams that I’m gonna make come true.” I thought of the sincerity in her words and it reminded me of being on mile 22 on a marathon, almost done but just exhausted.

This morning, with my massive headache and bags under my eyes I drove to the post office with my manuscript packets in hand.  The post office was packed and the people there were grumpy. However, I felt extremely giddy and grateful, like a big kid with a wonderful secret to tell.  When I got in my car one of my favorite songs was playing, Vivir Mi Vida by Marc Anthony.  “It’s a sign!” I shouted.  The best part of this whole experience was coming home and checking this off my TO DO list.

I hope you find the drive and courage to make your dreams come true in 2014. Thanks for being a part of mine.