Today’s book fits in perfectly with our theme of love for community. Ada’s Violin, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, tells the true story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. The story is told through the eyes of Ada Ríos, a young girl living in the town of Cateura, Paraguay. In 2017, this book won the Américas Award for its engaging representation of Latin America and its usefulness for K-12 classrooms.
Cateura is the home of the largest landfill in Paraguay; it is the place where the trash of the country’s capital, Asunción, isdumped. Most of the inhabitants of Cateura make a living bygathering recyclables and treasures from the landfill. The story tells about how Ada’s abuela registers Ada and her younger sister for music classes with señor Favio Chávez. Favio came to Cateura as an environmental engineer to teach safety measures to those working in the landfill. During his time in Cateura, he took an interest in the children of the workers and began a music class. When the class did not have enough instruments for everyone who signed up, Favio creatively decided to enlist a local carpenter, Nicolas Gómez, for help. Together, they made instruments from objects they found in the landfill. Thus, the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay was born.
This book demonstrates how a community is able to make the best of a difficult situation, and even thrive. It teaches the importance of dreaming big and believing in oneself. Furthermore, it shows the importance of support and coming together. Lastly, throughout it all, it contradicts stereotypes of impoverished communities as lacking agency.
The author’s note tells of the amazing successes that the Recycled Orchestra has had, in addition to the way that its community has remained at the center of that success. The money that the orchestra makes has gone back into the community to better the lives of the musicians’ families. And this grassroots-driven success continues to grow, with the orchestra starting out as a class of 10 and now consisting of some 200 students.
Wern Comport’s illustrations accompany the descriptions of daily life in Cateura beautifully. The colors and texture reflect the complex, textured, day-to-day of the characters. Furthermore, Wern Comport’s use of torn pieces of paper simulates the recycled nature of the orchestra itself.
This book could be accompanied by a number of different lessons in the classroom. It depicts the concept of recycling in a unique way, showing kids that what we throw in the trash has to go somewhere and that it always affects somebody. Our choices and actions matter! For slightly older students, that conversation can segue into deeper discussions about environmental racism – leading to larger-scale implications of how societies and countries choose where to leave their refuse, why, and what happens to it after it’s “abandoned.” On this topic, educators might appreciate watching Vic Munoz’s documentary, Wasteland, which documents a community’s efforts in Rio de Janeiro to recapture the garbage there, much as the people do in Cateura.
The book can also be accompanied by the documentary about The Recycled Orchestra, titled Landfill Harmonic.
At the end of the book, Hood lists a few websites, including that of The Recycled Orchestra Exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum, in addition to the website of the actual Orchestra: Orquesta de Reciclados de Cateura.
The book also lists three videos to check out:
- The Recyclers: From Trash Comes Triumph
- La Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados se instaló en Bogotá, Colombia
- The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura. “Nothing Else Matters” at the Metallica Tour (Chile)
Images Modified from: Ada’s Violin: Pages 1, 18, 22, 31