Saludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.
Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.
Gabriela Mistral was the Chilean author’s pseudonym and the story refers to the protagonist by her original name, Lucila. Young Lucila grew up in a small Andean village and at a young age her father “disappeared,” walking out on her mother and the family. Lucila lived with a sadness in her heart. She was timid, but pensive, sweet and always reading or writing: “And that’s how Lucila grew up: solitary, quiet and sometimes sad.” She started writing at a very young age, which when she adopted her pseudonym, Gabriela Mistral.
After her father’s disappearance, Lucila and her mother went to go live with her grandmother for a while. Lucila’s grandmother was a great inspiration to her, a strong and independent woman who served as her role model and even her muse for many of her poems: “This grandmother was a big, strong woman, strange and silent. She read the future in the stars and was very religious. She supported herself by embroidering ornaments for the church.” Growing up without her father, Lucila derived most of her support, guidance, and encouragement from the women in her life— her sturdy, inspirational grandmother, her compassionate mother, and her sharp older sister, who worked as a teacher in her town.
Each paragraph or page of this book is complemented by a quote or section from one of Gabriela Mistral’s poems. This wonderful narrative style not only exposes readers to examples of Mistral’s poetry, but also shows how her poetry was deeply influenced by and intertwined with her personal life. Leon pairs each paragraph with a section of Mistral’s poetry that bares similar themes to the part of her personal life being narrated in that moment. As a result, Mistral’s life experiences and identity, and her art are inseparable.
This narrative focuses primarily on Lucila’s childhood, the parts of her life that are most relevant and understandable for young readers. Readers can identify with her quirkiness, her solitude and even her early and persistent sadness. The story ends with Lucila all grown up working as a teacher: “She was a girl who was a teacher before she was a woman; a woman who without children of her own became the mother of all the children she taught, writing for them with such tenderness, sharing her message of love, peace, brother- and sisterhood. She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.” Much of Mistral’s work reflected both her love of children and her strong feminist values. As Leon’s narrative also reflects, Mistral defined herself and her life primarily by her work, her craft, her intellect, and her dedication to helping children, rather than the gender roles that were expected of her as a woman.
This story makes a point of focusing most specifically on the ways in which Mistral’s life related to children, her own childhood and her work as a teacher, rather than on the other more esoteric aspects of Mistral’s life, her award-winning work, her political engagement in Chile and abroad, and her literary colleagues and collaborators. As such this story presents Mistral’s life and work as sources of inspiration and motivation for young children, an objective that many of us educators and bloggers here at Vamos a Leer can relate to: “She was a woman who wrote for you and for all children, in the hope that you would learn to love words and enjoy them just as she did from a very young age.”
For those of you interested in learning more about the author/illustrator, here are some additional links:
- Personal website for Georgina Lázaro Leon
- Personal website for Sara Palacios
- A Pen in Neverland, interview with Sara Palacios
Stay tuned for more great reads about wonderful women!
Images Modified from: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, pages 4, 8, 11, 17