Alegria: Celebrating and Elevating Portuguese-speaking Brazilian students with an Author Visit

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.
Jaxson tries mango for the first time!
  • 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.
Ana Crespo presenting to a Cape Cod elementary group.
  • 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!”
“Dear Ana Crespo, Thank you for being a good person.”
  • 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).
“Me x 2” by Jane Medina, from the anthology AMAZING FACES.

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.

Watching an Author Make Magic

At the school where I work, the vast majority of children qualify for free and reduced lunch. A quarter of our K-3 students are English Language Learners, many from Brazil. Most of the children had never met an author, or had a book signed… until author Ana Crespo rolled into town! The author of eight picture books with more on the way, Ana is Brazilian-American. She lives in Colorado, and because of the wonders of Zoom and the support of the Amber Brown Grant from SCBWI, she made a virtual visit to our school in October 2022. That’s when she decided she liked our school and district so much that she would travel from Colorado to Cape Cod to celebrate the publication of her latest book, Lia and Luis: Puzzled from Charlesbridge.

Ana visited all three K-3 schools in our district this week. Her easy-going manner, warmth, and focus on her young readers were wonderful to behold. She even came to an evening event at our school to meet families and sign books. (Thank you to Brewster Bookstore for selling books at our evening event!) There were certain newcomer students, still learning their new language, who talked a blue streak to Ana in Portuguese. They asked insightful questions, sharing their experiences, wonderings, and feelings. She captivated the entire range of our K-3 students, and our Brazilian students were glowing!

Such a memorable day!

Winning a grant is a pretty great feeling… and then watching the impact of that grant on young children is just joyful.

When author Ana Crespo made an author visit via Zoom to the school where I work as a Literacy Coach on Cape Cod, the joy in classrooms was palpable. Most children in our K-3 school had never met an author before, and they were excited to meet Ana.

Crespo, a native of Brazil who lives in Colorado, is the author of several picture books, including The Sock Thief, Hello, Tree, and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? She made four presentations over the course of two days, presenting individually to each grade level at the M.E. Small School. 

Crespo’s author visit was provided by SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant, which funds author visits to deserving schools. In my application for the grant, I wrote of the M.E. Small School, “The students at M.E. Small are an enthusiastic bunch. Give them a rich and layered read-aloud experience, and they hang on every page turn. Give them a place to dance, and they dance their hearts out. Provide them with art materials and their creations burst with color. They are ‘all in,’ ready to embrace any new experience given to them.”

More than half of the students at M.E. Small School are English Language Learners, and a significant portion of those students are from Portuguese-speaking Brazilian families. That’s what made Ana’s visit so special. An author of more than seven books for young readers, she began to learn English at the age of 12. She was an embodiment of Rudine Sims Bishop’s windows and mirrors for our students at M.E. Small. Crespo personalized her presentation to each grade, greeting students in Portuguese and calling out special details about children in each grade level. 

“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. Obrigado.”

Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”

Funding from the Amber Brown Grant allowed each classroom in the school to receive a copy of two of Crespo’s books, The Sock Thief and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? I want to give a special shout-out to SCBWI’s Kim Turrisi, who coordinated all aspects of the grant and made the process so smooth!  The impact of the grant goes much deeper than one day’s joy, however. When I think about our young students, I believe the ripples of Ana’s visit will be felt for years to come.

Taking Risks: NESCBWI ’17 Conference Recap

Take risks: that was the most powerful message I took away from the New England SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) regional conference, I’ve been home a week, and I’m still reflecting on moments and messages from the conference.

Lunch with writer friends!

It’s a powerful feeling to be in a conference room full of people who all care about kids, from toddlers to teens. Because that’s why we write, isn’t it? I reveled in that. In this current moment in our history, there were over 700 people gathered together who want to make the world a better place for kids. With their words.

Leading on workshop on the power of setting for LGBTQ+ characters

I took my own risks during the weekend. I gave two workshop presentations, filled with enthusiastic writers who want to write stories about LGBTQ+  kids and families.

I took part in a panel (my first!) in which we discussed the state of children’s publishing and LGBTQ+ books for kids. It was well received and many people told me it was a highlight of their conference!

Panel with Lisa Bunker, Linda Camacho, Mary Cronin, and Kevin Lewis

Jane Yolen cheered on our efforts. Nova Ren Suma urged us to be our true selves. Melissa Sweet inspired us with her artistry. Mr. Schu illuminated the room with his enthusiasm for children and their books.

Mr. Schu, ambassador to school libraries!

All of it lit a fire that warmed the room, that connected us, that dared us to keep going, to do better.

Nova Ren Suma inspires us!

No matter what stage of my career I’m in, I find a home in the SCBWI community. The conference inspired me and emboldened me, and I know there were seeds planted during that conference that will indeed make the world a better place for our readers. I’m sure of that.

Next up: I’ll be presenting at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in early June about writing about characters with LGBTQ parents, and writing about gay and questioning middle graders. More info here.

NESCBWI Conference– was that a dream?

It’s taken me a while to come down from the clouds after the NESCBWI Conference in Springfield a little over a week ago. The theme of diversity, “Think Outside the Crayon Box,” was delivered in multi-layered and invigorating ways all weekend long.

Being on the faculty of the conference was an honor and delight!

name tag

It was my first time presenting, and everything went so well. My wife Bonnie (a middle school guidance counselor) and I presented “Developing Gay & Questioning Characters for Middle-Grade Fiction.” The workshop went smoothly, our participants asked great questions, and we received wonderful feedback. We have even been approached about offering the workshop in other locations! To be continued…


The keynotes were inspiring and affirming. Jo Knowles spoke about the importance of diversity in middle grade in a powerful and personal speech. Dan Santat had me thinking about the sources of  inspiration, and considering ways to stretch myself creatively. Kwame Alexander held an entire banquet room in thrall as he read from his picture book Acoustic Rooster— something I told my teachers in training about. Talk about holding the attention of your audience!

Kwame A. speaking

I used The Crossover in my Children’s Lit course this semester, and in a poetry presentation I gave in February to St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx. For those reasons and more, meeting Kwame Alexander ever so briefly, and basking in his mega-watt  interpersonal energy, was a total delight!

Kwame Alexander + M

Finally, the workshop on giving effective school presentations, offered by Marcia Wells and Kwame Alexander, was phenomenal. It was chock full of great examples, strategies, facts, and humor– practical and inspiring. And Marvin Terban, a towering presence in SCBWI, had us rolling in the aisles at his keynote on humor in children’s books.

I floated home, full of inspiration, the warmth of fellowship with other writers, and lots of notes and resources to keep me going. Congratulations to the organizers for a wonderful conference!