I first heard of Alma Flor Ada when I was in my teacher training program at San Jose State University. We read what she'd written about multiculturalism and teaching kids who are second language learners. Dr. Ada has written and translated many children's books into Spanish to ensure the Hispanic community will have access to literary resources and good literature in their home language.
I next read one of her stories, My Name is Maria Isabel, with my ESL students at a small private school. We had the old classroom readers -- a collection of stories -- from Houghton Mifflin. I hope this story continues in any new readers, since it resonates with most children when they're the "new kid" in class.
Here's the book blurb:
For Maria Isabel Salazer Lopez, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name. "We already have two Marias in this class, " says her teacher. "Why don't we call you Mary instead?"
But Maria Isabel has been named for her Papa's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother. Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself? **
Their name and their heritage -- this is so important for all children -- something uniquely theirs. In Maria's case, her name ties her to beloved family members and anchors her firmly in the Hispanic community, to the Puerto Rican heritage that helps her define herself. Many Americans don't have the same name identification links, which tie us to our families or our cultural or ethnic heritage.
American parents may just as easily name their children for public figures -- movie and rock stars -- for qualities or even objects (Apple, Star, Faith, Hope, Destiny, Dakota). Some choose Biblical names, or names that just "sound good" or start with the same letter (Judy, John, Joan). Yes, there still are some who name their children after family members or themselves. But many choose their baby's name when they first meet their child. "He just looked like a David."
Teachers, coaches, and instructors must be sensitive to what a child's name means to them. My daughter had to be KatyAnne at her new preschool because they already had two Katies. She was wasn't even two, so it had no real effect on her. But in My Name is Maria Isabel, Dr. Ada shows how important it is to understand and respect the culture of your students. It's also important for new students to feel accepted and welcomed. If you take their name from them, they don't feel accepted -- they feel conditional or marginalized. And that's no way to build a positive school experience.
Although there are many many publications and books by Dr. Ada, (see http://almaflorada.com/),
I'm closing with a look at more of her lighthearted children's books. While I haven't read these, I did take the Amazon "Look Inside" and think you would enjoy revisiting these fractured fairy tale stories as presented in letters and (newspaper form) from some of our Fairy Tale friends. You'll be surprised at what all they're up to:
With Love, Little Red Hen
Your Truly, Goldilocks
Extra! Extra!: Fairy-Tale News from Hidden Forest
Thank you Dr. Alma Flor Ada.