Interview with Salvadoran Author and Early Childhood Educator, Rene Colato Lainez
As I go about my day, I often forget about the fact that I have led a tremendously privileged life. My house never burnt down, I was never separated from my parents, and I didn’t walk across three borders to live in the United States.
Today’s guest, René Colato Laínez, has experienced all of those traumas, yet one would never know it from listening to his laughter and this joy-filled episode. We talk about the magic of cardboard castles, how books are portals into difficult discussions, and the creative power of libraries.
As teachers, if we want our students to love writing, they have to know we love writing. René has celebrated writing throughout his teaching career. When he began teaching Spanish bilingual kindergarten, he needed bilingual books. So, he wrote some and used photos to illustrate his stories. In order to entice students to his writing center, he asked a video store (remember those) to give him their cardboard castle they used to display video tapes. He took the castle back to his classroom and tucked two tables inside of it. Kids argued over whose turn it was to sit inside the castle and write. 29 years later since his first day, René is still teaching. Now, his students can choose to read one of his eighteen published bilingual titles.
René writes books that are portals into difficult discussions. If a parent gets deported, the parent who remains in the United States may choose to read From North to South/Del norte al sur to begin this difficult discussion. If a child walked across borders to enter the United States, they can find a mirror when reading My Shoes and I/Mis zapatos y yo. What about if a child doesn't understand why their parent has a green card that states their a resident alien? Does that mean their parent is an extraterrestrial? Mamά the Alien/Mamά la extraterrestre will clear up the confusion and make readers laugh out loud.
Are you stuck in a writing rut? During the summers, René spends three hours a day writing at the library. The silence nourishes him and being surrounded by thousands of creative titles inspires him. Plus, there's no pressure to do chores!
According to René, every early elementary classroom should have the following titles:
The Empanadas that Abuela Made/Las empanadas que hacía la abuela by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Estrellita Says Good-Bye to her Island/Estrellita se despide de su isla by Samuel Caraballo and Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Spanish bilingual titles are particularly important in René's classroom because his students' parents like to borrow books published in both languages.
Going Home, Coming Home (English and Vietnamese Edition) by Truong Tran
Waiting for Mama by Lee Tae-Jun
This title pairs well with Waiting for Papἀ/Esperando a Papἀ by René.
René's students also love this perennial classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Mo Willem's titles such as Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and the Elephant and Piggy series.
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