As a Literacy Coach in a K-3 school with a large Brazilian population, I was thrilled to win a grant from SCBWI that allowed me to invite Brazilian and American picture book author Ana Crespo to be a visiting author to Cape Cod elementary school M.E. Small in the fall of 2022. Crespo’s picture books include The Sock Thief (Albert Whitman, 2015), set in Brazil, and two books about Brazilian-American siblings set in the U.S: Lia and Luis: Who Has More? and Lia and Luis: Puzzled (Charlesbridge, 2020 and 2023). Crespo’s books provided culturally relevant texts that boosted oral language and increased vocabulary in two languages, while elevating newcomer children and foregrounding multilingual students as experts who could share their cultural knowledge and language expertise.
M.E. Small is a K-3 elementary school that serves a significant number of English Language Learners, many from Brazil. Ana Crespo represented a mirror experience for many children, giving them the opportunity to meet an accomplished author and engaging role model from their home country. I am honored to present this experience in the Classroom Idea Exchange at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention in November 2023.
Because of the strong connection forged between author, Literacy Coach, and school community, Crespo returned to the school for a second visit in the spring of 2023, and visited two other elementary schools in the district as well. Through extensive pre-planning and collaboration, we crafted an experience that illuminated the talents and experiences of the Brazilian students, deepened empathy for newcomers of all languages and backgrounds, and highlighted the joy and beauty of Brazilian culture.
Here are some specific actions and strategies we utilized to make these author visits a rich and rewarding experience:
Before the visit:
- We made sure that all students were familiar with Crespo’s books; providing multiple copies of titles so that teachers could share the books in their classrooms. The SCBWI Amber Brown Grant helped enormously with this in the fall of 2022, as did Rotary Club support for buying books for our students the following spring.
- I prepared “About the Author” information via a Google slides for classroom use.
- Before the Zoom visit: I asked teachers for connecting information about students, ie newcomers from Brazil, students who are passionate about soccer (highlighted in The Sock Thief), a student who particularly loved the story, a first grader known as the “mango artist” in her classroom.
- In a multi-sensory experience, we sliced and ate mango in the classroom– using a chart to highlight the number of students who were familiar with it and those who were trying it for the first time (we applauded students who were trying out a new food!).
- We utilized activities and materials from the author’s website to amplify the voices of Portuguese-speaking Brazilian students, creating experiences in which they functioned as the experts in their classrooms. These activities included learning about the Brazilian flag; tasting the mango and creating a bar graph; learning Portuguese vocabulary from Crespo’s books.
- In a collaboration with school’s art teacher, students created a large welcome poster for Crespo, inspired by an art project related to Lia and Luis: Puzzled.
- Because Crespo’s books weave Portuguese and English texts seamlessly, they presented rich opportunities for translanguaging, or “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire.” Brazilian students were able to translate for peers and share their own experiences about Brazil to put Crespo’s stories in context.
During the visit:
- In the initial author visit via Zoom, Crespo met with each grade level separately. With the help of information provided to teachers by Literacy Coach Mary Cronin, she did shout-outs to students who were newcomers, to a student who was expert in drawing mangoes, and to a Brazilian student who had made his own book inspired by hers, The Mango Thief. These created authentic and joyful connections despite the distance that Zoom can sometimes create.
- Crespo showed pictures of her childhood home, and locations that were featured in her books, providing an authentic “mirror” connection with students from Brazil while giving other students a glimpse into daily life in Brazil.
- In her in-person author visit the following spring, school leaders and Crespo involved Portuguese-speaking students in several ways. We had student greeters who welcomed Crespo to our school.
- Crespo used a movement activity, Simon Says, utilizing Portuguese, and asked Portuguese speakers to come up to the front of the room to help her lead the activity. These activities served to foreground multilingual students as experts who could share their cultural knowledge and language expertise with their peers in the classroom.
- For one period mid-day, a group of third-grade multilingual learners was able to meet in a smaller setting with Crespo over lemonade and Brazilian snacks, and they shared details of their lives with Crespo, including family history and immigration status
- Our school hosted a “Meet the Author” event for families in the evening. Brazilian food was served, Crespo signed books, and families had the chance to buy additional books and chat with the author.
After the visit:
- Students wrote notes to Ana Crespo, thanking her and reflecting on their experience with her. “I loved your book,” one student named Laura wrote to Crespo after the presentation. “I’m Brasilian too. I read Lia and Luis. Me and my brother are just like them. Obrigada.”
- Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”
- We used poetry to shine a light on the gifts and talents of multilingual learners with a school-wide embrace of the poem “Me x 2” by Jane Medina, featured in the Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology Amazing Faces (Lee & Low, 2010).
Why did this author visit work so well?
Alegria means joy in Brazilian Portuguese, and that captures the overall impact of Ana Crespo’s visits in which student identities were celebrated and seen as strengths. Underlying this author visit was a belief in the genius of our multilingual learners, inspired by Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius (2020) and Muhammad’s “humanizing practice” of celebrating our language learners through culturally relevant stories and a dynamic author role model. Brazilian students who were known to be quiet were participating fully in Crespo’s activities with enthusiasm, and speaking at length in Q & A sessions. Vulnerable students shared worries and concerns with Ana. Family members engaged with the author, speaking in their home language in a joyful evening event. Children who were new to Portuguese and to Brazilian culture learned from peers. All students benefited from two dynamic and joy-filled author visits.
Interested in contacting author Ana Crespo? Go here.