One muggy afternoon in mid-August, a group of little eyes peered into a big glass bowl where a three chrysalises were readying to hatch. These children of migrant blueberry harvesters, who come to Washington County in August to participate in the blueberry harvest, were in their final days as students of the Blueberry Harvest School (BHS), a federally-funded, monthlong program run by the nonprofit organization Mano en Mano, which is held each summer at Harrington Elementary School.
Observation of the soon-to-be butterflies was part of the school’s 2018 theme of “Imagining New Stories,” which carried over into the disciplines of reading, writing, art and science. Island Readers & Writers was thrilled to be a part of “imaginando nuevas historias” this summer along with author Meg Medina, a bilingual speaker of Cuban heritage, who spent three days at BHS with 88 children, ages 4 to 14.
Clustered into three groups by age, the children spent three wonderful days learning about Meg and how she came to be a writer, how she gets the ideas for her stories and how to tell their own stories through words and art.
The youngest children read “Mango, Abuela and Me,” Meg’s picture book about a young, English-speaking girl who tries to communicate with her Spanish-speaking grandmother through a bilingual parrot. Meg helped the youngest group of kids identify with how stories are attached to them by sharing a picture of her dog, Noche, whose tail is attached to him and yet he continues to chase it. “Sometimes we forget that our ‘tales’ are attached to us,” said Meg. To the delight of these youngsters, Mango the parrot puppet came out to meet them and help them with some Spanish words from “Mango, Abuela and Me.”
The kids created their own parrots out of paper by tracing their feet and cutting them out to create the look of feathers. Next, they chose vibrant colors and used paint rollers to create a marbled effect with the paint. Meg was awed by their work and commented on how they “all approached the assignment as artists” and that “art is about making new ideas…it’s the same with stories.”
The older group read Meg’s story “Sol Painting” from the short story collection “Flying Lessons and Other Stories,” featuring stories by 10 middle grade authors such as Kwame Alexander, Jaqueline Woodson and more. The kids asked thoughtful questions about what it takes to become a published author (a lot of work, according to Meg!) and about her other books. They were delighted to learn that “Sol Painting” is going to be extended into a full-length novel, “Merci Suarez Changes Gears,” this fall.
On the second day, the older group worked on writing in response to Meg’s question, “What is the earliest thing you remember?”
“When I was three I buried myself in the sand,” said one girl.
“When I was one I was in the water,” said another child.
“When I was ten I remember getting a stick stuck in my hand.”
“When I was two I didn’t eat all my lunch at day care.”
“When I was nine I got in trouble because I broke a glass.”
“When I was nine I went to the principal’s office and then I went to the mountains with my father.”
And with these stories swirling in their heads, she asked them to think about their hopes and dreams and introduced the project they’d be doing on the final day of her visit: creating milagros, traditional Mexican folk charms that represent miracles, hopes and dreams.
On the last day, the older students used wooden-tipped tools to etch their hopes and dreams into foil squares to create milagros. One young lady etched a star and a rainbow and said, “I kinda drew it because I want to be a star, a singer. And also because it represents my wish upon a star.”
That night, Meg along with IRW staff attended a pizza dinner in the Harrington Elementary gym, where all all of the colorful parrots and shimmering milagros were displayed for kids and their parents to see, along with other artwork the students had done throughout their time at BHS.
All of the milagros shone beautifully, but one in particular stood out; one that we hope signifies the aspirations and dreams of this young person to transform into their fullest potential, like the butterfly they saw hatch from chrysalis to monarch during their time with Meg Medina at the Blueberry Harvest School.