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Tía Lola Stories

Tía Lola Blog Tour

In celebration of the publication of the second book in the Tía Lola Stories series (four in all), How Tía Lola Learned to Teach (October 12, 2010), I tried something new: an online blog tour! Muchas gracias to the bloggers who participated and to all who joined the tour!

Gracias to AmoXcalli -- amoxcalli.ginaruiz.com for being the first to post the following essay.

How Tía Lola Learned to Teach, a book for young readers by Julia Alvarez
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18 October 2010

Why Tía Lola and I Love Sayings

I know that How Tía Lola Learned to Teach is filled with Tía Lola's favorite sayings. You guessed right if you think that as the author of the book, I, too, love sayings.

I grew up in the Dominican Republic, a poor country, during a long, brutal dictatorship. People were too poor to afford books, but they were also afraid to be known as bookish. You see, the dictator was very suspicious of readers. He knew that when you read a book, your imagination is free to roam, become other people, and experience different cultures and times. When you come back from reading a book, you've had a taste of an incredible new freedom. You might be less likely buckle down under an oppressive ruler.

But even if the culture did not encourage readers, the Dominican people were irrepressible storytellers. And since they couldn't consult books for wise bits of knowledge, they condensed their experience and wisdom into short memorable sayings. So, when Tía Lola, who never went past fourth grade, is asked to teach, her "textbooks" are her sayings. That's why every chapter in How Tía Lola Learned to Teach has as its title a favorite saying of Tía Lola.

Oral cultures are often rural cultures, that's why many sayings involve observations from the natural world: No hay rosa sin espinas: "Every rose has thorns"; or, el ojo del amo engorda el caballo: "The eye of the owner fattens the horse"; or, cada obeja con su pareja: a sheep version of "Birds of a feather flock together."

That's another interesting thing about sayings: how often there are similar ones in different languages and cultures. Here's one Tía Lola uses in How Tía Lola Learned to Teach that exists both in English and in Spanish:

Amigo en la adversidad
es amigo de verdad.

A friend in need
is a friend indeed.

There's a saying that applies to this: nothing new under the sun! Or even: great minds think alike!

Whenever I travel, I love learning the sayings of other cultures and countries. I recently visited Haiti, and one of the things I learned is that poor as this nation is, it is rich in sayings. Here are a few I learned:

Kréyon Bon Dié Pa Gin Gonm: "God's pencil has no eraser."

Yo pa ka achté moso manman nan maché: "You can't buy a piece of mother in the market."

Mizé fè bourik kouri pasé choual: "Misfortune makes a donkey run faster than a horse."

Moun ki pa manjé pou kò-l pa janm grangou: "People who don't eat alone are never hungry."

One of the exercises I give my writing students is to ask them to either make up a saying or pick a favorite one, and then write a story that embodies the truth of that saying. Aesop is a great model. He was a slave, who lived about six hundred years before the Christian Era. He wrote a whole book of fables, stories where the characters are animals who get into all kinds of scrapes that teach them, and us, wise lessons. Aesop's fables often end with a little lesson in the form of a saying. You might have heard the one that says, "Slow and steady wins the race." It comes from Aesop's story about the tortoise and the hare. Another popular saying is, "One man's meat is another one's poison," which comes from Aesop's fable of the ass and the grasshopper. Legend has it that Aesop's fables were so popular, they won him his freedom. Of course, there is a saying that applies to Aesop's own life story: "The pen is mightier than the sword," or, since sayings can be amended to fit new situations, "The pen is mightier than a ball and chain," and a lot lighter, too.

Julia Alvarez
Weybridge, Vermont
Gracias to AmoXcalli -- amoxcalli.ginaruiz.com
for being the first to share this essay.

Copyright © Julia Alvarez 2010-2014.
All rights reserved. No further duplication, downloading or
distribution permitted without written agreement of the author
(please contact my agent, Stuart Bernstein).
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More Books by Julia Alvarez:

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Tía Lola Stories

How Tía Lola
Came to Visit Stay

How Tia Lola Came to -Visit- Stay: a novel for young readers by Julia Alvarez -- click for book summary
middle readers, 2001
click for book summary

How Tía Lola
Learned to Teach

How Tía Lola Learned to Teach, a book for young readers by Julia Alvarez
middle readers, 2010
click for book summary

How Tía Lola
Saved the Summer

How Tía Lola Saved the Summer, a book for young readers by Julia Alvarez
middle readers, 2011
click for book summary

How Tía Lola
Ended Up Starting Over

How Tía Lola Ended Up Starting Over, a book for young readers by Julia Alvarez
middle readers, 2011
click for book summary
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Buy Books by Julia Alvarez

at your local bookstore

find books by Julia Alvarez at your local bookstore: indiebound.org

at amazon.com

& at other favorite bookstores:

vermontbookshop.com

powells.com

penguingroup.com

randomhouse.com

barnesandnoble.com

booksamillion.com

audiobookstand.com

The Middlebury College Store also offers to send you autographed copies of any of my books as long as they are in hard cover.


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