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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 Random Acts of Reading -- randomactsofreading.wordpress.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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27 October 2010

What Do I Do When I'm Not Writing?

part two

You know how I said I'm always writing, even when I'm not actually writing on my computer or in my journal? Well, Bill feels the same way about farming. He has to farm wherever he finds himself.

Like Tía Lola, I, too, come from the Dominican Republic. Even after we emigrated to this country when I was ten, we often returned for the summers and other vacations to stay with our relatives.

Neighbor farmers (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Neighbor farmers

When Bill and I got married, we continued this tradition of frequent visits. Mid January, Bill would glance around at the lush green fields and mountains and let out a huge sigh. I knew what he was thinking: if I could only farm here, I'd have a year round growing season.

The opportunity came when I was asked to write a piece for the Nature Conservancy on one of their protected sites in the Dominican Republic. Up in the mountains,
A Cafecito Story/El cuento del cafecito by Julia Alvarez: bilingual edition -- click for book summary
A Cafecito Story
Bill and I met with a group of small coffee farmers. They were farming coffee the old way, organically (who could afford expensive pesticides or chemicals?), under shade trees (to protect the tender plants). But big plantation-corporations had begun buying up the surrounding land, cutting down trees, growing coffee under full sun. With no trees in the way, you can crowd in more coffee plants, but then you have to spray them with pesticides to protect them.

These small farmers asked if we would help them in their struggle against the big plantations.

But we live in Vermont, I explained. I could help them help by writing a book about their plight. I kept my promise and wrote A Cafecito Story.

Coffee plants under shade trees (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Coffee plants under shade trees
Local school (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Local school
Wellesley group builds us a library. (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Wellesley group builds us a library.
Julia with kids at the Alta Gracia library. (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Julia with kids at the Alta Gracia library.
Doña Gloria (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Doña Gloria
Miguelina and Anameri at the window (photograph courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner)
Miguelina and Anameri at the window.

But Bill had that look in his eye I'd seen before. That look that said year-round FARMING OPPORTUNITY. Of course, we'll help you, he offered. Before I knew it, we were buying abandoned, deforested plots, planting trees that would protect the little coffee bushes, organizing the small farmers into a cooperative, bringing our coffee directly to customers in the United States. Cafe Alta Gracia, we called the coffee, after the national Virgencita de la Alta Gracia, patron saint of the country who has a soft place in her heart for farmers.

Bill was happy, farming in Vermont and in the Dominican Republic! At Alta Gracia, Bill didn't need my help; he had a lot of farmers who needed extra work to get by. What was I going to do while Bill farmed during our vacations in the Dominican Republic?

The answer came when I visited the local school. It was in shambles. The poorly-paid "professor" showed up only when he could afford to buy gasoline for his motorcycle to make it up the mountain. No wonder that none of the farmers and their families knew how to read and write.

And so we decided to start a school at the farm, where farmers and their families can learn to read and write.

As we got more readers in the community, we realized we needed a library. It just so happened that a group of teenagers from Wellesley, Massachusetts, wanted to come down and do a building project. (The Virgencita de la Alta Gracia was watching out for us for sure!) The Wellesley group built the first public library ever on the mountain.

As for the teachers at our farm school, all but one have been graduates from Middlebury College. They spend a volunteer year, living at Alta Gracia, teaching at the little school, running the library, and helping out in the community.

When I write about Tía Lola, I often think of my neighbors at Alta Gracia. I think of people like Doña Gloria, who never had much education, but like Tía Lola, Doña Gloria is a wonderful storyteller.

I also think about the children at Alta Gracia, how they are learning to read, how someday they might write their own books about Doña Gloria, about coffee farming, about living on a small island full of magical stories.


Photographs courtesy of Julia Alvarez and Bill Eichner


Julia Alvarez
Weybridge, Vermont
Gracias to Random Acts of Reading -- randomactsofreading.wordpress.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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Autographed Books by Julia Alvarez

Would you like a signed -- or personalized -- copy of one of Julia's books? Simply call or email one of her two local bookstores -- or stop in for a visit.

Vermont Book Shop
38 Main Street, Middlebury, Vermont
802.388.2061
vermontbookshop.com

Middlebury College Store
58 Hepburn Road, Middlebury, Vermont
Contact Georgia Best
802.443.2258
bookstore.middlebury.edu

And, of course, Julia would love to see you at one of her upcoming appearances. To see if she will be in your town, check her calendar.

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Find 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

bookstore.middlebury.edu

penguingroup.com

randomhouse.com

powells.com

barnesandnoble.com

booksamillion.com

audiobookstand.com


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