Last week, we had the honor of traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico to host story time for pre-K through first grade students at Escuela Inés María Mendoza! We were thrilled to meet the dedicated team of teachers and staff, and get to know their incredible students! Together, we read from our new bilingual book ¡Números, Baby! as we practiced counting from 1 – 10 in both Spanish and English. With each page, we also explored our book’s illustrations depicting the unique cultures and geography of diverse Spanish-speaking locales. We especially loved sharing page 5 (featuring Puerto Rico’s native coquí frogs) with the students, who then serenaded us with the distinct and beautiful song of the coquí!
In addition to hosting story time at Inés María Mendoza, we also delivered books we had collected for the school library. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Inés María Mendoza became a “receptor” school, taking in additional students whose local schools were destroyed by this unprecedented natural disaster. Now serving children from 18 months to 18 years old, the spacious school library needs more books to bolster its circulation.
In the true sense of what it means to be community-minded bookstores, two of our long-time retailers in Washington, DC – East City Bookshop and Loyalty Bookstore – eagerly took the opportunity to set up book donations drives at their stores to benefit Inés María Mendoza. The staff and customers at both indie bookstores were invaluable to our collection efforts in the lead up to our trip to San Juan. In addition, National Geographic Kids and City National Bank also generously donated books for the school library.
With our suitcases of donated books in tow (and more in the mail), we had the pleasure of meeting the superstar librarian at Inés María Mendoza, Ms. Celimar Hernández. A seasoned and dedicated educator with a deep love of books (her T-shirt says it all), we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the school from Ms. Hernández as we unpacked the books and toured her library (which featured beautiful new murals just painted by Access Books).
It was a true honor and privilege for us to spend time with the inspiring staff and students at Escuela Inés María Mendoza. Co-author Golzar Kheiltash personally thanked Ms. Herández at the end of our stay, and made a promise we can’t wait to keep: we’ll be back again (with more books) soon!
Throughout our trip, we asked many in the San Juan community how we can best support Puerto Rico’s rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Maria. And the answer was always the same: “Tell folks to come visit.” We couldn’t agree more – by visiting this extraordinary island, you’re not only treating yourself to one of the most beautiful, welcoming, and diverse travel destinations, but also supporting incredible local artisans, urban farmers, restaurateurs, and much more. Muchísimas gracias to the remarkable and resilient people of Puerto Rico for letting us share in your beauty, inside and out!
Can’t make a trip? Consider supporting one of the many organizations working tirelessly to support communities throughout Puerto Rico, including Puerto Rico Rise Up, Access Books and World Central Kitchen.
Stay tuned for Part II of our blog post series on our trip to Puerto Rico, where we share our experience volunteering at a trail-blazing local micro-greenery through World Central Kitchen’s Plow to Plate program!